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Heroin overdoses on the rise in Manatee; officials unsure how to curb problem

MANATEE -- Drug overdoses continue to rise in Manatee County, with the Bradenton Police Department reporting five within the past week, including two deaths.

Law enforcement and medical treatment agency officials say they aren't sure how to curb the sometime deadly problem.

Overdoses are mostly due to increased heroin use, an unintended consequence after the so-called pill mill crackdown, according to Bradenton police Capt. William Fowler.

After the state started shutting down medical offices inappropriately prescribing pain medication, people taking high-dose painkillers, then turned to heroin to fuel their addictions.

The chain reaction led to a rapid increase in overdoses in the past few years, according to Vernon DeSear, spokesman for Manatee Memorial Hospital.

"It's been increasing ever since 2011, but in the past year especially we've seen a ridiculous amount," DeSear said.

The two most recent deaths were reported by Bradenton police. A 27-year-old man was found dead about noon Saturday in a room at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in downtown Bradenton. About four hours later, a 32-year-old man was found dead at a residence on 15th Avenue West, according to police.

On Wednesday, officers found three adults who had overdosed in a house in the 1100 block of 19th Avenue West. The victims were hospitalized, and three children in the home were taken into protective custody, according to police.

Fowler and Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, say they're constantly talking with officers and deputies about how to handle overdoses. There isn't a lot they can do in terms of prevention.

"We sent a release out

about the issue in November, and the city sent one out in December, and you guys write about it," Bristow told the Herald. "So we try to educate people."

Fowler said they're always looking at new training for officers and are considering using Narcan, a drug medical personnel already use to help with overdoses.

Officers also try to talk with family members and anyone else involved in an overdose about the consequences of using drugs and where help is available, such as Manatee Glens Hospital and Outpatient Practice.

Dr. Jessica Corsby, head of the addiction center at Manatee Glens, said there aren't enough places for addicts to go for treatment in Manatee County.

"I always tell people, if we added an entire second floor I could fill it up tomorrow," Corsby said.

Manatee Glens has 24 beds, and Corsby said in January 2014 a few were open. Now Manatee Glens has a waiting list and is booked for at least a month.

Corsby said they try to treat everyone looking for help, but give preference to heroin users because the drug is so dangerous, which ends up causing longer waits for those addicted to other drugs such as cocaine.

"I've seen more overdose deaths in the past three months than I ever have," Corsby said. "We've seen five of our patients overdose, and three of those resulted in deaths."

Before the past three months, Corsby said she'd seen only four overdose deaths in six years in addiction treatment.

Manatee Glens is a nonprofit organization, Corsby said, which tries to help the uninsured and make sure cost isn't a factor in getting help.

"These are drug addicts who are commonly unemployed and they can't afford $15,000 to stay in a place for 30 days," Corsby said.

DeSear said Manatee Memorial tries to educate those who survive overdoses about their options.

"We tell them to be careful, because these are drugs that get cut with other things," DeSear said. "You have no idea what's in them."

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