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Forum Will Seek Causes, Solutions to Opioid Crisis

You’ve been hearing a lot about the opioid epidemic, in which a concoction of heroin and synthetic chemicals has produced a rash of deadly overdoses in Florida and the nation that ripples across health care, law enforcement, first-responders, social service and criminal justice agencies.

The Institute will address how opioid addiction became such a health crisis and what is being done to address it at a forum on Tuesday, October 10th , co-sponsored by the Drug Free America Foundation. The forum, titled The Drug Epidemic: How Opioids Became a Death Machine, will be from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Digitorium on SPC’s Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St. N. Admission is free, but advance registration is requested.

Institute Executive Director David Klement wrote a first-person account of his recent experience with opioids as a medical patient and his research into the origins of the pain-pill epidemic, which was published in the Tampa Bay Times on July 20 and in the Bradenton Herald on July 28.

Public health officials have called the opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing 59,000 people in 2016, a 19 percent increase over 2015. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for those under age 50; overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. Gov. Rick Scott in May declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in Florida. Opioids were responsible for the deaths of 3,896 Floridians in 2015 – roughly 12 percent of the nationwide toll.

Since Florida shut down the opioid “pill mills” in 2011-‘12, heroin has taken the place of the pills to which so many become addicted. In the last two years, drug dealers have added powerful painkillers like fentanyl and oxycodone to their heroin doses to boost its potency and its mass, both of which increase profits. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine and is often prescribed to cancer patients. But recently dealers have begun to mix in carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. It has become the leading cause of death among heroin overdose cases, as just three granules can kill.

Besides being a human tragedy, the overdose epidemic represents a severe financial blow to local government. County morgues are overloaded with the bodies of overdose victims, and medical examiners can’t keep up with the demand for autopsies to determine cause of death. The budgets of first-responders are maxed out paying for the anti-overdose drug Naloxone, which if administered in time can save the lives of overdose victims.

And, the drug epidemic destroys families. With the majority of the overdose victims in their 20s and 30s, the children neglected or orphaned by an addicted or overdosed parent overwhelm the child welfare system.

A distinguished panel will address the causes of the opioid epidemic and seek consensus on solutions. They are:

  • Major David Danzig, Bureau Commander, Investigative Operations Bureau, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
  • Reta Newman, Director, Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory, District Six Medical Examiner
  • Amy Ronshausen, Deputy Director, Drug Free America Foundation
  • Michael Sheehan, Medical Director, Operation PAR

Moderator will be Dr. Susan Demers, Dean of Policy, Ethics and Legal Studies for St. Petersburg College.

To register, click HERE.


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