Hillsborough County holds first opioid summit in 6 years as deadly overdoses continue to climb

Hillsborough County held its first opioid summit since 2017 on Thursday. It comes as the number of deadly overdoses has climbed.

"You just don't want to believe it," said Ellen Snelling, whose brother died of an overdose in 2017. "You just can't imagine going forward without your loved one."

She came to the summit at the TPepin Hospitality Centre in East Tampa in hopes of sharing her brother's story. He became addicted to legal pain pills in 2010, but died of an illegal fentenyl overdose in 2017, despite years of rehab attempts.

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"He was getting ready to go on a camping trip, going camping and fishing, so I know he did not want to die," Snelling said.

Those sharing his fate have increased with 92,000 death nationwide in 2020. Hillsborough County deaths have climbed from 131 in 2014 to 634 in 2022 – with increases every year.

Overdoses now cause more deaths than crashes, suicides and homicides.

"It's so profitable," said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. "We have greedy drug dealers who don't care who they are hurting, who they are killing, to make a profit."

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A cartel can make between $5 million and $20 million for just a few pounds of material. Further, the amount it takes to kill someone has dropped dramatically.

The sheriff says detectives have been visiting those who survive their overdoses to try and determine who the dealers were.

The summit included ER doctors, medical examiners, law enforcement and recovery experts.

"The overwhelming response says that everyone collectively wants to do something to change this," said Chronister. "This is a pandemic."

A map of Florida that shows overdoses by county is blinking red, showing desperation is statewide and not subsiding.

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"It just gives me hope that to see so many people here that we're all working together to try to end this or try to make a dent in it," said Snelling. "We've got to do something more to save lives."

The presentations at the summit included how to better treat those in recovery, how to craft better public policy and how better to stop the flow of illegal drugs.

The CDC said opioid deaths increased by 38% just between 2019 and 2020.