Deaths associated with the opioid heroin have increased five-fold in Orange County, from 14 heroin-related deaths in 2011 to 75 deaths in 2014, says District Nine Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany.
Stephany was speaking to the Orange County Heroin Task Force
on Monday about the drug's rising prevalence in local deaths. In 2015, 82 people in Orange County died in cases relating to heroin, and the numbers are still coming in. The task force, which was created by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Sheriff Jerry Demings in August, seeks solutions to the spike in local heroin use and overdose deaths. The task force has received support from time-share mogul David Siegel, whose daughter Victoria
died last year after overdosing on prescription drugs.
Benjamin Klekamp, from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, says heroin-related deaths from 2010 to 2014 were dominated by white men, particularly from the ages of 25 to 35. Use of heroin by white people has increased rapidly, according to The New York Times
, so much so that families are trying to soften the government's approach to addicts:
"When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.
And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease... Their efforts also include lobbying statehouses, holding rallies and starting nonprofit organizations, making these mothers and fathers part of a growing backlash against the harsh tactics of traditional drug enforcement. These days, in rare bipartisan or even nonpartisan agreement, punishment is out and compassion is in."
At Monday's meeting, Orange County Corrections Chief Cornita Riley and Dr. Robert Buck presented a pilot program for heroin users inside the jail that would offer inmates who want to be rehabilitated a shot of naltrexone, a drug which blocks the effects of heroin and can prevent people from relapsing. Inmates who don't want naltrexone could be offered naloxone, a drug used to treat narcotic overdoses. Riley and Buck say they hope to offer the treatments for free inside the jail, which saw 2,179 heroin addicts pass through it last year.
“We cannot force that population to participate in programming, but our goal is to at least have a very aggressive educational component,” Riley says.