TAMPA, Fla. - Thousands of people are out for spring break in Tampa Bay and a recent rash of fentanyl-laced overdoses in Florida has anti-drug advocates worried.
Last week in the Fort Lauderdale area, six spring breakers including West Point cadets overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine, and then a few days later four men went to the hospital after detectives found fentanyl in a house.
Recovery advocates like John Templeton Jr. are worried about people on spring break looking to let loose and coming across drugs laced with the synthetic opioid.
"[There are] just kids out there that might be experimenting with alcohol and drugs for the first time and high school kids starting to drink a little bit, and somebody introduces a little pill and they don’t know any better," said Templeton, the founder of Footprints Beachside Recovery Center in Treasure Island.
He shared how often they’re seeing fentanyl come through their doors.
"We see a continued upward trend with fentanyl showing up on drug screens of clients that admit to our program where they don’t even report fentanyl as a drug they even use," said Templeton.
Tampa Bay is crowded with spring breakers from the beaches to the streets, and hearing of young people overdosing on fentanyl-laced drugs hits home for parents who lost their children that way.
"It breaks my heart. It really does, because people don't understand the severity of how potent and powerful fentanyl is. It is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine," said Ida Wyland, a Sebring resident who lost her son to an accidental overdose. "I'm particularly passionate about spreading awareness for overdose and the signs and symptoms of overdose because March 25th of 2020, I lost my 17-year-old son, Jared, to an accidental fentanyl-laced Xanax overdose."
After her son’s death, Wyland said her family started the J.A.R.E.D. Project to raise awareness and educate others about overdoses. She does not want to see it tear anyone else’s family apart.
"I can tell you from personal experience that it has tremendously impacted my family. My 16-year-old son has made a vow with his friends not to use drugs because of what they've seen it do their brother," said Wyland. "It's not worth your life just to have a fun time for one night."
A 2021 report from Project Opioid Tampa Bay shows the Tampa Bay area’s opioid overdoses are 50 percent higher than the country’s numbers.