TAMPA, Fla. — Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office say drugs are killing people at a rate they’ve never seen before.
How does it start?
Everyone has their own story. For some, it's rooted in mental illness or abuse. Others say it started with recreational use as a teen. For many, it was legitimate pain leading to prescription painkillers.
Brandon Spencer says his addiction is rooted in childhood trauma he never dealt with. Instead, he turned to alcohol and marijuana at a young age. By 18, he'd move on to cocaine and by 22, he was using opioids on a regular basis.
"My mother, I would rob her jewelry cabinet every chance I got. My kids, I would even take from their piggy banks. Whatever I needed to do in order to get the funds for me to get loaded, all bets were off," explained Spencer who now works as an outreach coordinator for Rockland Treatment Center in Pasco County, Florida.
Chasing the high
When someone becomes addicted to drugs, the brain changes, Corporal Aaron Dahl with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office explained.
“They'll tell me it's the best feeling they've ever felt in their life. It makes them euphoric. It takes their pain away, their depression away, takes all these things away.”
It quickly becomes unrealistic and before you know it, you're chasing euphoria — and the goalposts keep changing. Users will keep taking more and more to achieve that high as their body builds a tolerance.
Dahl says in many addicts’ quest to find the “best high,” they’ll take too much, leaving them unresponsive and on the verge of death.
Sometimes an overdose is not a wake-up call.
Dahl said he’ll ask people, “Why are you buying this stuff that's making you overdose? And they say well that's the best stuff on the street.”
Overdoses also happen because people didn't know the drug they bought was laced with something else, something stronger and more potent.
These days, fentanyl is a big culprit in the overdose crisis. It’s a synthetic opioid 80-100 times stronger than morphine.
Dahl says they find it all across Hillsborough County often laced in another drug.
“I have no idea why, but we’ve seen an uptick of numbers of you think you’re getting one thing and you end up getting another poison,” Dahl said.
In the state of Florida, you’ll be charged with murder if you dealt a drug to somebody and it caused them to overdose and die.
Law enforcement agencies across the state are going after dealers but the work is time-consuming, tedious and undercover.
Most of the time, dealers aren’t addicts but they do profit off of a crisis, killing nearly three people every day in the Tampa Bay area according to LIVE Tampa Bay.
“This crisis, it may be huge but it's worth the fight,” Dahl said.