Florida health agencies are collaborating to address rising overdoses and deaths due to illicit drug use, including from the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Children and Families, and Department of Law Enforcement issued a detailed public health and safety alert last week to spread awareness of drug use.
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The alert identified fentanyl as being up to 100 times more potent than morphine. A dose as small as 2 milligrams can be fatal.
Following a national upward trend of overdose-related deaths, over 6,150 Floridians died from overdoses involving fentanyl in 2020, according to data from the Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiners Commission. Provisional 2021 data from the Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics also suggests an increase in synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths.
“All Floridians are advised to remain vigilant of the signs of fentanyl overdose and current public risk, especially law enforcement, first responders, and health care providers,” the alert said.
Symptoms of opioid overdose include a loss of consciousness and limp body, changes in pupil size, cold and clammy skin, discolored lips, and nausea or vomiting. The alert notes that a fentanyl-induced overdose can occur much faster compared to other opioid overdoses.
State agencies advise taking the following steps to respond to possible overdoses:
- Call 911 immediately.
- Administer naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, if available.
- Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
- Lay the person on their side to avoid choking.
- Stay with them until emergency assistance arrives.
Behavioral health and substance use disorder advocates have worked to bring more awareness to the life-saving naloxone medication, which can be administered via nasal spray or auto-injector. HEROS, or Helping Emergency Responders Obtain Support, is a Department of Health program that has distributed free naloxone to emergency response agencies since 2018, amounting to over 455,000 doses delivered. A standing order from the Department of Health also allows pharmacists to distribute naloxone to first responders for the purpose of reversing an opioid overdose.
Recent policy developments also aim to address the opioid epidemic. During this past legislative session, policymakers passed a bill that allows public schools to purchase naloxone and protects school district employees who distribute it to a student from civil liability. In May 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that strengthened penalties for selling and distributing opioids, including fentanyl, in Florida.
Other resources include Hope for Healing, an aggregator of federal, state, and local mental health and substance abuse resources, and Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity, where care navigators work to develop a unique care plan for individuals in need.