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Florida’s opioid crisis is about to get deadlier. Here’s how Orange County officials plan to fight back

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Heroin wasn't new to Stephanie Muzzy, but the batch she tried from Lake Downey trailer park near Union Park plummeted her into the depths of addiction.

In 2012, Muzzy was driving around Orlando looking for the worst neighborhood she could find in search of prescription pills. Pills were the reason she had left Boston six months earlier – she wanted to get away from the clique of friends who used with her. Living with her aunt and uncle in Florida, she was good for a while and had even gotten a job. Until, that is, she had a bad day.

At the trailer park, Muzzy couldn't find pills, but there was plenty of heroin. Eventually, the Orange County Sheriff's Office busted a heroin ring at Lake Downey where drug dealers were selling 2,000 bags of heroin a day. Six weeks later, Muzzy was sitting in the Orange County jail with a cracked face and a black eye. After quitting her job, she started shoplifting at stores like Plato's Closet to resell items or give them to her drug dealer in exchange for smack. Police arrested her after officers caught her stealing from a Kohl's. As she was detoxing during her nine days behind bars, she had a seizure and fell on her face. Her bond was only $1,000, but her mom wouldn't bail her out until she found a rehab facility.

"I was there almost three months. I thought once you went to rehab, you were cured," she says. "I didn't understand what it was. I lasted about six months before I started using heroin and Dilaudid again."

As the months turned into years, Muzzy was in and out of rehabs in Florida and Nevada, gaining and losing jobs, apartments, cars, cats and boyfriends along the way.

"I was doing well for a while, and I got a lot of my things back, so I thought it would be a good idea to go back home for a visit," she says. "On the first day, I did heroin again, and I overdosed in my friend's car. I decided maybe I shouldn't do drugs again, and I went home, but the obsession was still in the back of my head. It was all I thought about. I thought, 'I can just do one pill,' but it turned into me shooting heroin and Dilaudid about another year on and off. I couldn't stay sober because I was so miserable from losing everything I had."

Despite overdose after overdose, once even while on the toilet, Muzzy was able to recover ­– but the same can't be said for more than 2,664 Floridians who overdosed on opioids and never woke up during the first six months of 2016. On average, that means 14 people were killed by opioids every day, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and those fatal overdoses are on track to significantly surpass previous years. Since 2011, the number of heroin-related deaths has escalated from 57 to a record 779 in 2015. During the same time period in Orange County, the number of heroin-related fatalities jumped from 14 to 85.

Fentanyl is currently Florida's deadliest drug. A state report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission shows the manmade opioid, which is more potent than heroin, killed 704 people from January to June 2016. That's almost the same amount of deaths associated with fentanyl in all of 2015. While heroin-related deaths dropped slightly in 2016 in Orange County, deaths associated with fentanyl, carfentanil and other synthetic derivatives increased fourfold, from 17 in 2013 to 68 last year.

In February, Senate Democrats lambasted Gov. Rick Scott for paying quicker attention to the headline-grabbing Zika virus than the four-year surge of deaths associated with the opioid epidemic. Lawmakers pleaded with Scott to declare a public health emergency. Scott didn't do so until May. His declaration allowed Florida to immediately draw more than $27 million in federal grant funds and expand Scott's power to financially respond to the crisis without the Legislature's immediate approval.

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