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Project Opioid Fights Drug Abuse Epidemic in Central Florida Counties

New drug law takes aim at opioid crisis. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

The opioid epidemic kills about 130 Americans a day. Central Florida leaders have established Project Opioid, a partnership that includes law enforcement, health care providers, insurance professionals and other authorities, to help combat the crisis.

Nikaury Muñoz, system of care director with the Central Florida Cares Health System, Tony Jenkins, Central Florida market president for Florida Blue and co-chair of Project Opioid, and Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, who chairs the Attorney General’s Transition Advisory Committee Working Group on Opioid Abuse, join Intersection to discuss Project Opioid’s plans to combat the drug epidemic in Central Florida.

Project Opioid brings together officials from Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in a joint effort to address the drug crisis locally.

Muñoz said she has seen firsthand an increase in deaths due to opioid use while working with people who are either uninsured or underinsured. She said Florida alone loses about 4,000 people annually to opioid abuse.

“We see the data, and we do see the increase in opioid use, and … we continue to see an increase in opioid-related deaths,” Muñoz said.

The impact of the opioid epidemic is especially devastating because its reach touches all areas of a community, causing massive economic repercussions and social loss, Jenkins said.

“It’s hard to put one number on it per say, but when you think about when you add up all of the intangibles of how economically this is impacting communities … from an economic standpoint, this will definitely add into thousands, millions of dollars,” Jenkins said.

For law enforcement officials, the crisis has forced them to take on extra responsibilities normally reserved for EMTs and drug counselors, Lemma said.

Lemma said state leaders are reconsidering whether to re-establish a 'drug czar' to coordinate the statewide approach to the opioid crisis, after Gov. Rick Scott eliminated the office of drug control when he took office in 2011.

“Whether or not there needs to be one person — you know, I’m really not a big supporter of big government and those regulations, but there has to be some level of accountability and responsibility by some office,” said Lemma.

The working group is expected to issue a recommendation next month on whether a drug czar is necessary.  Lemma said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has also introduced a bill to establish a long-term statewide opioid and substance abuse task force

“There’s still plenty of work to be done,” Lemma said.