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This drug is killing people in Manatee County faster than anywhere else in the state

Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction

More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.
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More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.

Manatee County is the fentanyl analog death capital of Florida.

A state report released Thursday shows that in 2016, Manatee County was the only one of the state’s 67 counties where the number of deaths per capita caused by fentanyl analogs exceeded 25 per 100,000 population. Only two other counties, Duval and Palm Beach, came even close, with death rates of between 10 and 14.99 per 100,000.

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Manatee County had the highest deaths related to fentanyl analogs last year. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission

But fentanyl analogs — such as carfentanil, which can be 5,000 times more potent than heroin and is used as a large animal tranquilizer — are not the only drugs that killed Manatee County residents at such a deadly pace last year.

Manatee was one of only four counties in which the per capita number of deaths caused by cocaine exceeded 25 per 100,000 population in 2016. The others were Duval, Monroe and Palm Beach, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission’s annual report.

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Manatee County had one of the highest deaths per capita rates related to cocaine last year. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiners Commission

One year ago, the 2015 report noted that Manatee had the highest deaths per capita related to morphine, fentanyl and cocaine, and tied with Palm Beach County for heroin-related deaths.

While deaths related to fentanyl in Manatee went down significantly in 2016, from between 20 and 24.99 deaths per 100,000 to between 5 and 9.99 deaths, Palm Beach County’s problem with the opioid has increased. Deaths per capita in Manatee related to diazepam, morphine and heroin also went down.

Melissa Larkin-Skinner, CEO of Centerstone of Florida, said she believes the community’s efforts to increase awareness and the availability of naloxone, a drug known by its brand name Narcan that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, are part of why those number of deaths have decreased. However, it does not mean addiction is not still an issue.

“We must remain vigilant, the decrease does not necessarily mean we have fewer people struggling with addiction to opioids, it means fewer people are dying due to opioid overdose. Demand for treatment services remains high. We need to continue to advocate for treatment services to help people who are fighting an addiction and prevention programming to prevent future addiction epidemics,” Larkin-Skinner said.

Bay County had the highest number of deaths per capital related to alprazolam, known as the brand name Xanax. But the frequency of related deaths in Manatee increased from between 10 and 14.99 deaths per 100,000 in 2015 to between 15 and 19.99 deaths in 2016.

Locally, the rate of deaths related to oxycodone and methadone also increased last year, while hydrocodone death rates remained the same.

Statewide, cocaine was the drug responsible for the most drug-related deaths, topping just over 1,700. Heroin-related deaths in Florida went up by 30 percent, and those caused by fentanyl increased by 97 percent. The occurrence of buprenorphine, a drug that treats pain and opioid addiction, went up by 90 percent.

Herald staff reporter Sara Nealeigh contributed to this story.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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