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Fentanyl to blame for 82% of opioid overdoses in Tampa Bay area, experts say

Experts say buying drugs on the street has never been more dangerous due to the potency of certain opioids.

TAMPA, Fla. — Addiction and the prevalence of extremely potent drugs are a deadly combination especially now in the Tampa Bay region.

"You have a two in five chance of dying from a pill you buy off the street," said Jennifer Webb, the executive director of LIVE Tampa Bay, the group formerly known as Project Opioid Tampa Bay.

According to the data collected by LIVE Tampa Bay, our region has some of the highest rates of opioid overdoses in the country. Just yesterday, parents were arrested after their baby died and police said fentanyl was in his system.

"There have been incidents with a few grains of fentanyl just killing adults. It takes very little to kill this child," said Police Chief Kim Bogart.

Fentanyl is an extremely strong synthetic opioid created to treat pain but fentanyl bought on the streets can kill in an instant.

"You have the potential to take a Xanax pill, you think it's a Xanax and never wake up again," said John Templeton, the founder of Footprints Beachside Recovery.

An estimated 1,540 people died of opioid overdoses in the Tampa Bay region in 2020 – more than four people each day on average – a 49.6-percent increase since 2019. That's higher than the state and national averages.

Experts with LIVE Tampa Bay say the pandemic played a role in the increase.

"We've never seen anything like what we're seeing now. The drugs that are out there now, this fentanyl which is in almost everything, it's life-threatening," said Templeton.

Regional leaders are now working on solutions to combat the overdose crisis with the first phase of the initiative being an effort to stop the stigma so more people are comfortable asking for help from their addiction.

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