Following two major drug-enforcement efforts aimed at suspected sellers and distributors, Martin County has seen a sharp decline in recent overdose cases, sheriff’s officials said.
The sheriff’s office reported fewer than 10 overdose calls in each of the last three months, following a spike in 2016 that reached as high as 29 in October.
“We’re clearly seeing a downward trend,” said Martin Sheriff William Snyder, whose agency arrested more than 60 people in separate drug operations last October and December.
In a recent letter urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare the opiod epidemic a public-health emergency, Martin County officials reported 88 deaths as a result of overdoses in 2016.
By comparison, Palm Beach County — with nearly 10 times Martin’s population — reported more than 600 drug-related deaths in 2016, its medical examiner’s office said. On Friday, there were 10 drug overdose deaths alone in Palm Beach County, which also is home to more drug-rehabilitation centers than Martin, the medical examiner said.
Snyder said multiple factors factors contributed to the recent decline in overdose calls in Martin County, including increased community awareness. He also believes an effort to remove drug dealers from the streets has helped.
“I’m always careful (not) to try to ascribe a cause and effect to anything we do or don’t do,” he said. “I do think that the aggressive operations have had some impact.”
The number of overdose calls dropped from 23 in November to six in December and three in January. There were two in February and one so far in March, the sheriff’s office said.
In October, the sheriff’s office concluded the year-long Operation Relentless Pursuit, arresting 47 people on trafficking charges. Many of those targeted in the operation were accused of selling Opana, the brand name for the opioid oxymorphone.
More than 20 people were arrested in early December as investigators concluded the months long Operation Doolittle’s Raid.
In addition to the drug operations, the sheriff’s office last year began carrying the anti-dose overdose drug Narcan. Since August, when the agency began using the Narcan kits, deputies have used it 31 times. Snyder said the number of uses has slowed in recent months.
In an effort to prevent deaths, deputies use Narcan in situations where they arrive at a suspected overdose before paramedics. Since October, there were three fatal overdose cases from these cases, the sheriff’s office said.
Stuart Police spokesman Cpl. Brian Bossio said his agency — one of the first in Florida to use Narcan — has used Narcan 26 times since officers began carrying it a year ago. Stuart city police saw 24 overdose cases in 2016. There has been one case so far in 2016, Bossio said.
Bossio said city police have focused not only enforcement efforts, but education through programs such as the Narcotics Overdose Prevention Education — also known as NOPE — Task Force.
“The last couple of years we’ve certainly seen a spike,” Bossio said regarding heroin and opioid overdose incidents.
Martin County Fire Rescue officials say their crews have administered Narcan to 27 patients this year, a potential decrease of 29 percent from 2016. However, responders are having to administer more doses per patients than in the past, said Bureau Chief Dan Harshburger of Martin County Fire Rescue.
The increased used is potentially due to the use of fentanyl, a synthetic drug more than 100 times more potent than morphine, he said.
Snyder said his agency plans more operations aimed at reducing drug activity in the county.
“We’re in the middle of another significant operation as we speak,” he said. “I would share with the drug dealers of Martin County they’d be better served going somewhere else.”