Florida health agencies issue warning over rising fentanyl overdoses

Florida health agencies are working together to address rising overdoses and deaths from illicit drug use, including the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Agencies including the Department of Health, Department of Children and Families and Department of Law Enforcement issued a detailed public health and safety alert last week to raise awareness of the drug use.

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The alert identified fentanyl as being up to 100 times more potent than morphine. A dose as small as 2 milligrams can be fatal.

Next to a national upward trend of overdose-related deaths, more than 6,150 Floridians died from overdoses involving fentanyl in 2020, according to Data of the Board of Medical Examiners of the Department of Law Enforcement. Provisional 2021 data from the Health Department‘s Bureau of Vital Statistics also suggests an increase in synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths.

“All Floridians are urged to remain vigilant for signs of fentanyl overdose and current public risk, especially law enforcement, first responders, and healthcare providers,” the alert reads.

Symptoms from an opioid overdose include loss of consciousness and limp body, changes in pupil size, cold clammy skin, discolored lips, and nausea or vomiting. The alert notes that a fentanyl-induced overdose can occur much faster than other opioid overdoses.

State agencies advise taking the following steps to respond to possible overdoses:

  1. Dial 911 immediately.
  2. Administer naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, if available.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  5. Stay with them until emergency help arrives.

Advocates for behavioral health and substance use disorders have worked to bring more awareness the life-saving drug naloxone, which can be given by nasal spray or auto-injector. HERO, or Helping Emergency Responders Obtain Support, is a Department of Health program that has been distributing free naloxone to emergency response agencies since 2018, with more than 455,000 doses delivered. A standing order of the Department of Health also allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone to first responders for the purpose of reversing an opioid overdose.

Recent policy developments also aim to address the opioid epidemic. During the last legislative session, policy makers adopted a bill which allows public schools to purchase naloxone and protects school district employees who distribute it to a student from liability. In May 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an invoice which increased penalties for the sale and distribution of opioids, including fentanyl, in Florida.

Other resources include Hope for healingan aggregator of federal, state, and local resources on mental health and addiction, and Hope Florida – A Path to Prosperitywhere care navigators work to develop a single plan of care for those in need.