County overdose epidemic pushes onto Anna Maria Island

It’s here.

The drug epidemic that put Manatee County on the media map this summer with EMS responding to a record number of drug overdoses has garnered national attion. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is asking for federal help.

Anna Maria Island hasn’t seen the kind of overdose problems as the mainland, but Bradenton Beach police took an overdose call to 911 July 30.

A 27-year-old man called 911 after finding another man lying unconscious in his apartment.

According to Bradenton Beach Police Officer Josh Betts’ report, the caller first saw the man in the apartment in the 200 block of Church Avenue and left, telling another person, “He overdosed, call 911. I can’t handle this.”

When Betts arrived, he observed Manatee County EMS treating a 31-year-old New Port Richey man for a drug overdose.

“EMS had to hit him with Narcan twice,” BBPD Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz said, referring to the antidote used to revive patients after opiate overdoses.

He was taken to Blake Medical Center, where he was treated and released.


EMS acknowledges problem

Acting EMS Chief Paul Dicicco blamed Manatee County’s overdose problem on “an influx of heroin” coupled with an added ingredient in the heroin supply, a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine — fentanyl.

Dicicco said there’s an even stronger heroin-cutting agent in some drugs — carfentanil, a large animal anesthetic, 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Dicicco said between Jan. 1 and July 31, EMS used Narcan eight times in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach and five times in Anna Maria.

With the increased overdoses, Dicicco is looking to attack the problem with a proactive approach.

As of Aug. 8, EMS in Manatee County had three paramedics following up with overdose patients to ensure access to medical and community resources.

“We hope it will help to meet these folks in their environment and encourage them to get off heroin and the other drugs,” Dicicco said.


Federal help sought

In a July 25 letter to National Drug Control Policy and Health and Human Service directors, Buchanan asked for “immediate funding” for Manatee County costs associated with the overdose spike.

Buchanan is asking for funds under the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed into law in July and providing $180 million in enhancement grants per year for five years.

“Manatee County is the epicenter of Florida’s heroin crisis, recording more heroin-related deaths per capita than any of the other 66 counties in 2014,” Buchanan said in a July 25 news release.

The release continued, “Over the last several months (in Manatee County), the number of overdose-related calls to law enforcement doubled, from between 5 and 10 calls a month to 19 a month.”

On Aug. 4, Dicicco reported higher numbers for June and July, saying countywide Narcan delivery by EMS is averaging 12 each day.

Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria Substation Sgt. Russ Schnering said their island departments have no recorded overdoses for 2016.

But, Schnering said of the county’s drug problem, “It’s bad.”

He emphasized, “Time is of the essence if you find a grandchild on the floor.”

Narcan is essential.

Bradenton Beach police indicate the July 30 overdose was its first since August 2015, when a 60-year-old man was found dead in an apartment on Third Street South, where th medical examiner confirmed the cause of death was IV fentanyl use.

A drug overdose also is suspected in the June death of a 33-year-old Cortez man found unconscious at home.

Dave Bristow, MCSO public information officer, said deputies countywide responded since the first of the year to 331 overdoses, including 17 deaths, with nine in July.

“Fentanyl is what’s killing people,” he said.

Bristow and Dicicco agree the summer months register the most overdoses.

“EMS can sweep them off to the hospital without us knowing about it,” Bristow said, accounting for cases unknown to MCSO and other agencies.

“In late June and July, we started getting hammered,” he added.

As for Anna Maria Island, Bristow warned that while law enforcement isn’t fielding a lot of reports, it doesn’t mean the illicit drugs aren’t available.

             “It’s not like there’s a wall and they’re not going there. People are doing drugs and likely overdosing there, too,” he said.

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