BRADENTON, Fla. - With 984 overdoses and 126 deaths, Manatee County was ground zero in the state's opioid epidemic in 2016. Things are starting to turn around.
"Jail is normally not the first option. It’s usually our last option," said Alfred James, the manager of Manatee County's 12th Judicial Circuit Drug and Veterans Court program.
At a meeting Thursday, James and others discussed their progress and how to continue helping those addicted to opioids.
"The more we come together, the more we can provide and the better chances that person will succeed because they’re getting what they need to deal with the problem that they have," said Alfred.
Marjorie Mann knows the struggles.
"I took my first hit of crack cocaine at the age of 12 years old and it was just a downward spiral," she said.
Going in and out of jail never solved her problems. Her turn-around began thanks to the compassion of a Manatee County judge.
"He looked at me. He had tears in his eyes and he said, 'Marjorie, you have so much potential. What can we do to help you?'" she said.
After listening to her story, the judge sent her to a program where she got clean. Marjorie now works as a certified recovery peer specialist. She helps others through her own experience at First Step.
"I will do whatever it takes to get you from where you are to where you need to be," she said.
Last year, Manatee County saw a 70% decrease in overdoses, but Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells says focusing on that number is not his main priority.
"I don’t like to focus on that as much as I would like because you always know there is the ability for those numbers to rise again. Right now, we’re down, but we are having to keep our foot on the throttle every single second of the day," he said.
Sheriff Wells said working together proves the most successful, but it's never over.
"We are a long way away. We need to continue to fight the fight every day," he said.