Fatal opioid overdoses are on the rise in central Florida even after pandemic restrictions are lifted

One person dies of an opioid overdose every day in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.

A report released Wednesday that examined state, state and local data from Project Opioid found that opioid overdose deaths in central Florida continue to rise – even after pandemic restrictions are relaxed.

In Florida, opioid deaths rose 26 percent from April 2020 to April 2021 year over year. In Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties, the rate rose 28 percent: 616 deaths in a year between the three counties, or 1.5 per day.

Andrae Bailey, founder of Project Opioid, says the pandemic has accelerated the real problem: the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is flooding the markets.

“Overdose deaths continue to rise, even after we started reducing social distancing as we go back to work, even though unemployment has fallen, overdose numbers have not returned to prepandemic numbers,” Bailey said.

The report finds that central Florida white men are the most likely to die from opioid overdoses: 82 percent of those who die are white and 71 percent are men.

But the Black Floridians death rate is rising alarmingly, a 200 percent increase from 2015 to 2021.

“Month after month, year after year, we are seeing such a surge in the black community as fentanyl is used in different types of drugs,” said Kendall Cortelyou of Project Opioid. “So this is something that is really important and that our community needs to address.”

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma is calling on lawmakers to allow civilians working for law enforcement agencies to carry and administer the opioid reverse drug Narcan.

Lemma said you can’t stop your way out of the opioid crisis. But he is calling on lawmakers to increase penalties for those who target people who seek addiction treatment.

Lemma pointed to an arrest in which the operator of a rehab facility in Altamonte Springs was arrested for selling fentanyl.

“Just as we have increased penalties for selling drugs near a school, church or playground, so are the penalties for drug dealers selling drugs near an area where someone is trying to get clean,” said Lemma. “They are clearly a vulnerable population looking for help there.”

Brevard and Volusia counties have higher per capita death rates from opioid overdoses than the Orlando area.

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