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Why Tampa Bay’s opioid crisis is getting worse, not better | Editorial

“People are mixing these to the point that they’re dying almost instantly,” says Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s manager of operations, Harrison Cowan.
An arrangement of prescription oxycodone pills in New York. [MARK LENNIHAN | AP]
Published Nov. 8

The latest numbers make it clear that the opioid crisis in the Tampa Bay area is getting worse, not better. In the first half of the year, 200 people in Pinellas County and 118 people in Hillsborough County died from drug overdoses. That is a record pace, and it will take a multi-faceted effort to reverse the trend.

Instead of relying on pill mills that have largely been shut down, drug users now find their drugs in even less secure spots. Those drugs tend to be a combination of multiple substances, many times including dangerous synthetic fentanyl. “People are mixing these to the point that they’re dying almost instantly,” said the Hillsborough County medical examiner’s manager of operations, Harrison Cowan. Researchers even found a strain of fentanyl that was unique to Pinellas-Pasco and connected with 40 deaths in the area.

Fentanyl has an antidote, known as Narcan or Naloxone. The Pinellas County’s Sheriff’s Office has already administered 122 doses of Narcan this year to 81 people, a spokesperson said. That’s already almost two times the number of doses administered in all of 2018.

The trend lines have to be reversed. With an antidote that is not a long-term solution, the Tampa Bay community has to redouble its public education efforts to reduce demand and warn of the dangers of opioids while local law enforcement continues to root out the illegal drug suppliers.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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