BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) — Manatee County is embroiled in a deadly heroin epidemic and officials are scrambling to contain it. Experts say there’s no other county in Florida that has as many deaths as Manatee County.
Consider this, in 2010, there were only 2 recorded heroin deaths here. However in 2015, that number had skyrocketed to more than 200 deaths from heroin and Fentanyl. But the question is, “Why here?”
The FDLE reports that Manatee County ranks highest in the state in the number of Fentanyl-related deaths. This figure has skyrocketed as dealers continue to mix Fentanyl with heroin and sell it on the streets.
“There’s no doubt about it, it’s a big problem in this county,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.
So far this year, there have been nearly 900 reported overdoses and 60 Fentanyl-related deaths. Of all places, why Manatee County?
Officials really don’t have an answer but there are some clues: There’s a history of prescription drug abusers here. Also, Florida laws need to be stronger to fight this emerging crisis. “Right now we don’t have laws in the state of Florida for trafficking in Fentanyl or Carfentanil,” said Bristow.
Florida lawmakers are trying to craft new legislation to give dealers harsher sentences. “Hopefully that law will get passed soon so we’ll have a little more teeth there when we arrest someone with a large amount of Fentanyl or Carfentanil,” Bristow added.
As 8 On Your Side found, it’s very easy to find and order Fentanyl online. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is doing all it can. In the past few months, deputies have arrested 79 people for drug crimes. “If you get the dealers off the street, maybe the users won’t be able to find it and it’ll help with some of these overdoses,” said Bristow.
Katie Albritton and her friend Rosie Dillon are among the lucky ones. “I overdosed three times in three weeks and by the grace of God I am alive,” said Dillon. “You don’t want to stop getting high because you’re numb to it and nothing else matters but that next fix,” said Albritton.
They say it’s surprisingly easy to get a hold of these deadly drugs in Manatee County. “It’s everywhere in Bradenton. It’s really just a phone call away or a street corner away,” said Dillon.
Now the women are drug free. They work with a ministry called His Girls Discipleship. On Friday nights, they hit the streets of Bradenton and minister to addicts and dealers, offering them help and a way out.
Despite this increasing problem in Manatee County, these two women prove that there’s hope.
“Don’t ever think that just because you’re in a ditch and that your life doesn’t matter because it does,” said Albritton.
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