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Florida’s Opioid Crisis Intensifies

Dennis Yip via Flickr Creative Commons

The number of opioid-related deaths in Florida increased 35 percent in 2016 according to a report released last week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  The report, based on data collected from medical examiners across the state, finds that overdose deaths caused by the power synthetic opioid fentanyl shot up 97 percent last year and that the presence of fentanyl in overdose victims increased 80 percent. We talk with Lee Health Emergency Department physician Dr. Aaron Wohl, Director of Residential Programs at SalusCare Steven Hill, and Chief Medical Examiner for Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit Dr. Russell Vega.

The opioid crisis in Florida is having broader impacts beyond recreational drug users themselves.  Lee Health Neonatologist Dr. William Liu says that the number of drug-dependent babies born to addicted mothers has increased 1,200 percent in Lee County since 2005 and this past summer.  The Florida Department of Health in Lee County reported that more than 1,200 children had been removed from their homes as well as more than 600 newborns in the five county area that the agency oversees over the past year, largely due to issues related to substance abuse.  As the opioid crisis in Florida and around the nation intensifies, state lawmakers are looking to tackle the problem through a variety of proposed bills when they convene the 2018 legislative session in January.  These bills include efforts to expand the use of Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Database, to limit the supply of certain opioid drugs that doctors would be able prescribe to patients, as well as a proposal to launch a pilot program in Southwest Florida aimed at helping newborns suffering with neonatal abstinence syndrome.  We’ll take a closer look at the these bills and hear from those working on the front lines of the opioid crisis here in Southwest Florida.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.