The Orange County Heroin Task Force unanimously approved a plan Monday to combat Central Florida’s growing heroin problem.
The task force made recommendations in law enforcement, education, health care and treatment. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the next step is to see what parts of the 37-point plan will need additional funding.
“At a state level, there’s definitely a need for more funding,” Jacobs said. “This effort to be the lowest-taxed state in the country has its consequences. And I think all of us that sit here and live in this community and see those consequences are willing to take up the fight.”
Joint law enforcement agency projects have made 372 heroin-related arrests since the task force formed last August and there were fatal overdoses this weekend alone, likely from heroin.
90.7 Health Reporter Abe Aboraya spoke with All Things Considered Host Crystal Chavez:
CRYSTAL: What does the task force say should be done?
ABE: There are four big topics, if you will, this task force is making policy recommendations on: Law enforcement, education, health care and treatment. On the law enforcement side, they’re looking at this from a supply and demand situation.
CRYSTAL: So is the idea to reduce the supply and make heroin more expensive to get a hold of?
ABE: Exactly, more expensive and harder to find. And they’re doing that by going after dealers and the distributors with joint operations. Orlando Police Chief John Mina said this is dangerous police work, kicking in doors on armed dealers.
“Since we began this task force in August, jointly we have made 372 arrests related to heroin and taken almost nine kilos taken off the street,” Mina said. “To give an idea, that’s almost $750,000 in street value taken off the streets.”
CRYSTAL: What is the task force recommending for the future?
ABE: A couple big things. Higher bond for people charged with trafficking heroin. They also want all first responders, including police to carry the overdose reversal drug known as Narcan. The task force also wants to lobby the legislature for stricter penalties for having fentanyl. This a powerful opiate that’s either used to cut heroin or is sometimes sold in place of heroin.
CRYSTAL: Well those are a few ideas on the supply side, Abe, how about the demand side?
ABE: One big idea the task force is recommending actually deals with Orange County’s jail. The task force recommends a pilot program for inmates who want help kicking the habit.
Dr. George Ralls, medical director of Orange County’s EMS system, said people avoid detox because it’s unpleasant.
“When you get arrested and go through a jail, you’re forced through it. And we’ll help them through it and they all get through it. But letting them walk out of the hail two or three weeks later without any conversation about ending the addiction cycle is a missed opportunity.”
So this pilot program would either have people leave jail on a drug called Vivitrol … think of it as a long-acting Narcan. Or, at the very least, have them leave with Narcan in case of an overdose. And keep in mind, on any given day, they have 350 inmates who are admitted heroin users. And since January of last year, they’ve had 100 pregnant inmates who are heroin users as well.
CRYSTAL: So the task force is calling for stepped up law enforcement, more health care options, more funding and more education. Now what happens?
ABE: Yeah, maybe this was the easy part, right? So now they have to figure out what it will cost to actually put these policies into place. I asked Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs if they know what this will cost.
“The next phase of this effort is to determine how much of these recommendations will need additional funding from what we already have,” Jacobs said. “And then absolutely, we’ll be calling on this task force to advocate for state, federal funding.”
Task force members also talked about the importance of voting, saying that Florida now ranks dead last in per capita funding for mental health issues, which is closely tied to substance abuse.
Reporter Abe Aboraya is part of WMFE in Orlando. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.