SARASOTA, Fla. -- The opioid crisis across the country has dropped the life expectancy for a second straight year according to the CDC. The age dropped from 78.7 to 78.6.
The life expectancy age for Manatee County fell two-tenths of a year for men, but women’s life expectancy held at 81.1.
While parts of the nation have seen a jump in opioid use, Manatee County has seen a drop as law enforcement cracks down on dealers and steps up rehabilitation programs.
“It took over my life,” Amber Gordon said about drugs.
The 39-year-old single mother has been clean for nearly three years thanks to her 18-month-old son Grayson. She stopped using drugs when she got pregnant, but before then Gordon was an addict.
Gordon said, “I hit my bottom in Florida -- homelessness, prostitution.”
All because of heroin. Gordon started using drugs recreationally at 14. Then in her 30s, she tried heroin for the first time.
Gordon said heroin took her to a dark place for the next five years.
“I lost family members. I burned bridges in and out of jail. I died several times.”
She was one of the growing statistics in Manatee County of drug overdoses. Manatee became the epicenter for heroin cases in Florida.
“At the height a year ago we had 11 patients a day overdosing," said Randy Warren, spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. "Today it's less than one."
The heroin/fentanyl drug problem in Manatee County has seen a turnaround.
“They’re killing people,” said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells during a press conference earlier this week announcing a large drug bust.
Operation Hot Batch is a yearlong investigation between local, state and federal agencies that ended in the arrest of 34 alleged drug dealers and 20 more arrests are pending.
Wells told reporters, “They’re making a profit off of those who are dying.”
"Good law enforcement, good investigative work, getting rid of the supply is going to make a difference," added Warren.
And it is making a difference the proof is in the numbers. The number of overdoses the second half of this year compared to the same time last year dropped 78.1 percent, and the number of drug-related deaths are down 75.3 percent.
Programs like Recovery Pod at the Manatee County Jail help inmates quit drug use. About 500 signed over the last two years.
Jail officials say about 40 percent have not reoffended.
“The sheriff’s made it clear we’re not going after the users. We have compassion. We want them to get help,” said Warren.
Gordon tried different rehab programs, but at Prodigal Daughters she found the key to help her stay clean.
“Jesus Christ, he was the missing part of the puzzle,” said Gordon.
She added, “Here I figured out the root of my thinking why I did the things that I did. It helped me deal with it head-on and give it to God.
Manatee County’s sheriff knows the department's work is not done.
“We know there’s going to be another dealer who wants to make a profit. They need to know we’re not going away,” said Wells.
That dedication and commitment is a gift for Gordon and her son.
We checked with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and found while the number of overdoses went up 37 this year and the number of deaths more than doubled compared to last year, Sarasota also saw a dramatic drop during the past six months.
The number of overdoses in Sarasota dropped 53 percent between July and December and there were 35 percent fewer deaths during the second half of the year.
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