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A New Approach to Opioid Overdoses

Featured Photo from A New Approach to Opioid Overdoses

In 2018, 82 people in Seminole County lost their lives to fatal overdoses. That’s more than homicides and traffic crashes combined.

There is ample reason to consider opioid overdoses our number one public health concern. In 2018, 82 people in Seminole County lost their lives to fatal overdoses. That’s more than homicides and traffic crashes combined. This disturbing trend has continued since 2016 when fentanyl emerged as a cheaper, go-to synthetic alternative to heroin. In November 2016 we began equipping our deputies with the opioid inhibitor NARCAN. Since that time, they have successfully brought back hundreds of overdose victims from the brink of dying. Still, we have to, and can, do better. 

This year, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody appointed me the chair of her Transition Advisory Committee Working Group on Opioid Abuse, with the goal of developing the best practices to stop the influx of opioids, treat addiction, and raise awareness to reduce deaths across the state. At the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), we are already implementing new strategies into practice with promising results. In concert with valued community partners, we have created the Seminole County Opioid Resistance Effort (SCORE). The mission of SCORE is to develop holistic, community-based strategies to deal with fatal and nonfatal overdoses, addiction, and its root causes. 

I’ve often said that the person at greatest risk of a fatal opioid overdose is someone who has already overdosed and survived. We have learned that people are most willing to do something to get out of this vicious cycle of addiction after they have experienced a nonfatal overdose. That’s where SCORE’s new immediate response team comes in. Comprised of SCSO investigators, the team members are tasked with immediately contacting those who have overdosed and their loved ones in order to connect them with counseling and treatment services. That’s how we came in contact with a 27-year-old woman named Morgan, who had just relocated to Seminole County from Georgia to be near her mother. 

After three years of clean and sober living, one day in early February, Morgan relapsed. She started drinking with a young man who then offered her heroin. Morgan tried it for the first time. When 911 responded, Morgan was turning blue and barely breathing, but firefighters were able to save her after the overdose. Investigators from our SCORE immediate response team then contacted Morgan in the hospital. She enthusiastically accepted their offer to help get her back on the right track. Three weeks after Morgan’s near-death experience, the team facilitated a visit she wanted to make to Seminole County Fire Station 12 to say thank-you. She presented each firefighter with a gift bag along with a handwritten note of appreciation for saving her life. Today, Morgan goes to regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings and recently started a new job on her path to recovery. You’d never know from looking at her, how close she came to being another opioid-related tragedy.

This is not a case of taking bad people and making them good, but rather taking sick people and making them well. It’s our goal through this approach that addicts in our community will break free from the cycle of addiction to lead happy, drug-free lives, and reach their full potential.

Sheriff Dennis M. Lemma, now in his second year leading the agency, is the 10th sheriff in the history of Seminole County. As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Sheriff Lemma directs the agency’s enforcement, investigative, correctional, judicial, juvenile, and support services. 

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