Drug overdose deaths down in Florida, state officials remain concerned

State leaders announced "encouraging" data on overdose deaths in Florida. Attorney General Ashley Moody shared the 2023 Florida Medical Examiners Interim Report on Tuesday, which outlines data on drug-related deaths from the first half of 2023.

"Everyone in Florida has felt the effect of an opioid death," Moody said.

AG Moody says there’s a decline in overall drug-related deaths across Florida. But state leaders remain cautiously optimistic, calling fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.

"Florida experienced a 7% decrease in total drug-related deaths, a 10% decrease in deaths caused by fentanyl and a 10% decrease in opioid-caused deaths," Moody said.

Moody says this is the third consecutive report that indicates a decline in drug-related deaths in Florida.

"This is the greatest percentage decrease in deaths caused by fentanyl in our state since 2016," Moody said.

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However, state leaders say there are still thousands of people in Florida that are dying from overdoses.

"I'm an 18-year recovered opioid addict. I was what you would call a functioning addict," Longwood Deputy Mayor Matt Morgan said.

State law enforcement officials say Tampa Bay has dropped from being the fourth-highest in fentanyl-related deaths in Florida to the sixth-highest.

They say fentanyl remains at the core of the problem.

"It's absolutely a mental health illness. Make no mistake about that," Morgan said. While at the same time, you got to be very firm with those that are dealing these drugs and the fentanyl that is coming across our border."

Morgan, himself, was once a WWE wrestler and addicted to painkillers. He battled addiction for several years before getting help.

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He says fentanyl poses an even bigger danger to drug users now.

"If I was using my painkillers the way I was 18, 20 years ago with my addiction, I'd be dead 35 times over," Morgan said.

FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass says the overwhelming majority of drugs are now laced with fentanyl.

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Glass says prescription-type painkillers can often contain traces of fentanyl, even though they may look like the same pills you can get at a pharmacy.

"Seven and nine grains of salt," Glass said. "Lay them out there. And that's what will kill you. So if it's not mixed right or correctly, which (the) majority of it's not, it's just thrown together, it's going to kill you. And now you also got to remember too, these folks will take and cut other types of drugs with it. Heroin, cocaine. All that stuff is done in multiple things, to include cannabis."

State officials applaud the "SAFE" initiative, which is a state-funded program to target drug rings and traffickers.

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"To date, there's been 110 approved investigations with $14.7 million obligated," Glass said.

Glass says the initiative started less than a year ago, and investigators around the state have already seized mass amounts of drugs, weapons and money.

"Within probably about six to eight months, (we) seized over 37kg of fentanyl, over 30,000 fentanyl pills, 55kg of cocaine, 20kg of methamphetamine, half a million dollars in currency seized, 72 firearms and over 410 arrests," Glass said.

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Although state leaders say the new data is encouraging, it is not the end of their work.

State leaders put pressure on the federal government to stop the flow of drugs over international borders and into the U.S.

They credit the SAFE initiative, investment in recovery resources and aggressive prosecution of drug dealers for all helping drive down overdose numbers.