The rise of heroin use and opioid abuse is a threat to the health and safety of all Americans. Here in South Florida we are seeing an alarming rate of overdoses and drug related deaths. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness of the heroin and opioid epidemic, to save lives and protect the residents and visitors of our community.
Addiction knows no boundaries, and heroin and opioids don’t discriminate when they destroy the lives of our loved ones. Sadly, no one is immune. Men and women with diverse backgrounds, the young and the old, the rich and poor, students and professionals, city dwellers and those living in small rural communities — are all faces of heroin and opioid addiction.
In 2015 alone, there were approximately 1,460 opiate related deaths in the southern region of Florida. With a total of approximately 2,920 non-fatal opiate related overdoses in 2015, we are averaging one overdose every two hours, at a rate of 12 victims a day.
Nationally, in 2014, more than 27,000 lives were lost to heroin and opioids, and the numbers continue to increase each year.
Tragically, many individuals who abuse prescription opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, are now turning to heroin. Others are dying from fentanyl, a toxic synthetic opioid that has been added to heroin to become 25 to 40 times more potent. Those who struggle with addiction are using substances that have often been unknowingly altered and have become even more deadly.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic by continuing to implement a three-pronged approach focused on enforcement, prevention and treatment. Our office is committed to the prosecution of drug traffickers who have fueled the addictions that have stolen lives, robbed families and devastated communities. Working closely with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we continually prosecute a wide-range of players, including street dealers, gang members, unethical doctors and pharmacists, and leaders of the drug cartels that import large quantities of heroin and other opioids into the United States.
However, merely prosecuting the drug distributors will not eradicate the problem. We must continue to reduce the demand for the drugs, raise awareness regarding the heroin and opioid epidemic, provide resources for treatment and collectively strive to prevent addiction, overdoses and deaths.
No one segment of our community can combat the problem alone. Parents, friends and relatives are our first line of defense. Talk to your children and families about the potential harmful effects of using drugs that they were not prescribed. Safeguard your medications. Ensure that you safely discard all old or unused prescription medications. Report suspected drug-related activity to law enforcement. And, most importantly, if you are concerned that someone you know is in need of help, seek medical assistance or treatment services immediately.
To learn more about prevention, enforcement and treatment efforts, we invite you to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our public service allies as we support National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week during a town hall meeting at Lynn University, today from 2-5 p.m. Members of law enforcement, medical professionals and public health providers will expand our collective awareness of the heroin and opioid epidemic so that we may, hopefully, prevent future tragedies.
Wifredo A. Ferrer is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida