Three very loud cheers to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the Bradenton Police Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Investigators and officers from all three agencies appear to have crippled heroin trafficking and overdose deaths in this county, the worst in Florida for casualties from a drug trade entirely lacking in empathy.
Last week, law enforcement arrested 15 suspects after an 18-month investigation. Heroin overdose deaths stopped this year, and hopefully that will continue. The MCSO and BPD investigated 77 heroin deaths last year.
Heartless drug dealers put fentanyl into the heroin, but that painkiller is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Helpless heroin addicts are too vulnerable to overdosing on such a powerful combination.
Devastated families have been clamoring for help, but drug addiction treatment centers can only accommodate so many individuals. Centerstone Florida's addiction treatment center deals with high demand for services.
Melissa Larkin-Skinner, the chief clinical officer at the mental health facility, told the Herald that she heard from emergency medical service personnel that January recorded a three-year low in overdose calls.
Maybe Manatee County has turned the tide on this drug epidemic.
Law enforcement's drug investigation captured one of the leading distributors of heroin, official reports suggest. The suspect, Cedric Houston, has a lengthy court record with charges ranging from assault and home invasion to domestic violence and cocaine trafficking. He's been imprisoned three times. Now, he and the other suspects face up to 30 years in prison. And law enforcement expects more arrests. Whether officials will pursue charges in overdose deaths remains to be seen, but that's a possibility.
Once again, kudos to the three law enforcement agencies -- as well as the Sarasota County Sheriff's Officer for its participation. This is public safety at its finest.