In a work session Tuesday, county commissioners started the first of a possible three conversations on what can be done about the heroin epidemic that’s taken over Manatee County.
Joshua Barnett, manager of health care services for the county, presented information on overdose statistics and Narcan administration and suggested looking to prevention rather than reaction.
“An epidemic is not typically treated through a medication. It’s not typically addressed through ‘take this pill’ or ‘go to this type of program,’” he said. “When you address an epidemic, you’re addressing it from a multifactoral, multifaceted way of impact.”
Epidemics like polio and smallpox were only eradicated by prevention, Barnett said, and opioid addiction should be treated the same way.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest 2015 data, about every 15 people out of 100,000 in Florida died from an opioid-related overdose death. In Manatee County, that number was every 48 out of 100,000.
Last year, the county spent $96,000 for Narcan and administered 2,521 doses — a number that doesn’t include administrations by fire departments or Manatee Memorial Hospital. While it costs between $90 and $110 to purchase a two-dose pack at CVS without insurance, EMS said the doses cost $44 for the county.
Most of the people receiving Narcan, a brand of opioid antidote used to reverse the effects of an overdose, were white men, according to Manatee County EMS data from 2016. The ZIP codes that comprise nearly 60 percent of the county’s Narcan doses administered include 34207, 34205 and 34208.
Although correlation does not imply causation, Barnett noted that in those same three counties, child removal rates were the highest and median yearly income was lowest compared to Manatee’s other ZIP codes.
Addiction affects the individual in many ways, like physical and mental health as well as behavioral changes and social functioning, according to Barnett.
It isn’t limited to illegal opioids like heroin or carfentanil, either. For example, if someone got into a car accident and needed pain medication temporarily, addiction could rear its head through what’s considered legal.
Barnett said 60 to 70 percent of people who had died from opioid overdose had a prescription history of pain medication. And today, with prescription pain medication being much more expensive than heroin, drugs on the street aren’t always what they’re said to be, and users could end up being deadly in a single use.
Chairwoman Betsy Benac addressed how there is a lack of help for this difference.
“It seems to me like those are two different groups who require two different approaches,” Benac said.
Barnett then addressed the fact that those who ended up addicted from legal medication might not see themselves as having a substance use disorder.
“How do you coach somebody to acknowledge without some sort of intervention that ‘oh this might be a disorder’?” Barnett asked.
“People are scrambling to find out how can we address this appropriately,” Barnett said. Three things come to mind: “Prevention, partnerships and evidence-based intervention.”
Many representatives for groups around the county were at the county administration for the presentation, including Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Todd Shear and officials from Suncoast Behavioral Health, Drug Free Manatee, Centerstone and Armor Correctional Medical Services.