The effects of the opioid crisis continue to endure in Sarasota. According to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the leading cause of death in Sarasota among 15-34 year olds is drug abuse.
“I think everyone is at risk,” Chief of Campus Police Michael Kessie said. “The stereotypical person who uses drugs has gone out the door. There have been many problems [related to drug use and abuse] in the past couple of years in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.”
A report released in early September by the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that almost 30 percent of opioids prescribed to patients were given without an official medical diagnosis. When doctors stop prescribing opioids to opioid-dependent patients they can turn towards heroin as a substitute. Intravenous heroin use can lead to the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C through the shared use of tainted needles, as well as cause cardiovascular and respiratory failures which can result in death. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that over 115 people die per day from opioid-related overdoses nationally.
The Hepatitis C virus is fast-spreading and causes inflammation and damage of the liver resulting in death if untreated. The full treatment can cost up to $90,000, making it unattainable for low-income or uninsured Americans. Turning Points, an organization with locations in Sarasota and Bradenton, is one of the few places in Florida that offers free testing and treatment for Hepatitis C.
(Florida Governor Rick Scott is a one million dollar investor in Gilead Sciences, the same group that charges $90,000 for a full treatment of Hepatitis C. Because there are free clinics to treat Hepatitis C, taxpayer money is going towards the cost of the same treatments that Scott profits from.)
My Florida Families claims that Sarasota has the second highest number of child removal cases in Florida, with opioid addiction being the number one cause for removal of children. Sarasota also ranks third in the state for the county with the highest number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results in newborns suffering from opiate withdrawal symptoms.
“It’s tough to change what you’ve always done, but it’s even tougher to keep everyone in jail when they should be in recovery,” Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight said in an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Knight explained that his office has launched a Pharmaceutical Diversion Investigative Unit in an effort to combat drug abuse in Sarasota.
To try and prevent overcrowding in jail for non-violent offenses the Sarasota County Police Department declared in their 2017 annual report that the Criminal Investigation Division is exploring other alternatives to incarceration. Their main initiative is the High Point Drug Market Initiative, intended to shut down drug markets and reduce drug-related violence in the community.
Information gathered for this post was taken from the Herald Tribune, FMA General Counsel, My Florida Families, CHIP 4Health, Health News Florida, Center for Disease Control, Annals of Internal Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, The Daytona Beach News-Journal and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.