Overdoses Overwhelm Miami First Responders
Author: Shernide Delva
The overdose epidemic is affecting regions across the United States. In Miami Florida, deaths so far in 2016 are expected to surpass last year’s numbers, if they haven’t already.
One of the main culprits in increasing the number of overdoses in the area is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic that can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug is killing drug users at an alarming rate. In March 2016, Miami Fire Rescue treated 273 people for heroin and fentanyl overdoses. As a result, first responders are overwhelmed by the peak in overdoses.
The drug has flooded South Florida streets from Mexico and China over the past few years. Through August of this year, Miami-Dade Country Medical Examiner’s Office has already reported 130 deaths related to fentanyl-overdoses. Compare that to number between 2010 and 2014, when only about 20 people a year died from overusing the drug.
“The problem is bad, and it’s getting worse,” said Miami Fire Chief Maurice Kemp.
Kemp revealed that in the first eight months of this year, paramedics had administered Narcan to 1,023 people. Those numbers are shockingly higher considering only 493 doses were administered last year. Also, costs to the city for Narcan have soared from $43,000 to more than $155,000.
Law enforcement experts believe the rise in opioid abuse is due to the crackdown years back on Oxycodone. Over the past few years, drugs like oxycodone have become increasingly harder to obtain because of the now known potential these drugs have for abuse. However, because prescription painkillers are more difficult to obtain, drug users are turning to heroin because it is a cheaper, more accessible option. Sadly, often users who believe they are buying heroin are receiving fentanyl instead. The drug can be used through a patch, snorted, swallowed or injected.
The Miami Herald chronicled the rise of the synthetic drug in its Pipeline China series last year.
Attempts to cut the pipelines from other countries to South Florida have proved troublesome. Purchasers simply find new ways to ship the drugs, some ways posing a danger to postal workers who can be exposed if the drugs touch their skin.
Furthermore, prosecutions have been difficult because investigators have a difficult time targeting primary suppliers instead of low-level street dealers. Still, there have been some. In March, a Miramar man was sentenced to a ten-year prison term after being found importing variants of fentanyl from a prisoner in Canada, who was, in turn, ordering the drugs from China. Authorities discovered that he was using the currency known as Bitcoin to pay for the drugs.
To combat the epidemic, a dozen South Florida law enforcement and government authorities gathered on Friday at the Miami Police College Auditorium. They presented slideshows and spoke on the dangers of the drugs to the public.
The arresting of dealers is difficult. The majority of fentanyl that is distributed in the country arrives through the Dark Web or Dark Net, stated Homeland Security Deputy Special Agent John Toban. These underground websites are hard to track because the IP addresses are hidden.
“It’s a national priority, dismantling those organizations,” he said.
Now with fentanyl seen on a regular basis, police are finding it takes more time for the overdose antidote Narcan to work in reversing the effects of the drug.
“Now with the fentanyl and all the other synthetic drugs that are out there, it’s taking a lot longer and, sometimes, it doesn’t even work,” Miami Department of Fire-Rescue Capt. Archie Vazquez said.
Unfortunately, the new drugs on the market make it hard to guarantee any lives will be saved directly by using Narcan.
“If their respiratory drive goes out and they stop breathing, the outcome is going to be fatal,” Vazquez said.
Overall, the overdose epidemic is affecting counties throughout the state of Florida. There needs to be a change. Addiction is a disease that requires a precise treatment plan. If you are struggling, do not wait. You owe it to yourself to get the help you need. Call now. We want to help.