After eight months of investigations, the Orange County Heroin Task Force concluded Monday morning with a public meeting at the county administration building.
The meeting ended with a pledge by Mayor Teresa Jacobs to begin work immediately on a set of recommendations to help curb the county’s severe heroin epidemic.
Last year, there were 101 heroin-related deaths (and counting) as the District Nine Medical Examiner’s office continues to document new data. The number was a vast increase from 2011 when there were only 19 deaths from heroin-related causes.
The task force’s recommendations include continuing joint enforcement details between the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department, increasing bond amounts for heroin trafficking and growing availability of drugs such as Naloxone that could save a heroin addict’s life. A full list of the recommendations can be found at ocfl.net/heroin.
Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins floated the idea of hiring an outside company to conduct random drug testing in schools. David Siegel, who lost a child to drugs, said he supported the idea at a news conference after the presentation.
“That’s the only way we’re going to be able to stop the overdose and stop the epidemic,” he said. “Through random drug testing in our schools, starting with middle school. Children start by experimenting with marijuana, and if anyone tells you that’s not a gateway drug, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Random drug testing is the best deterrent against peer pressure.”
On implementing the recommendations, Jacobs said there won’t be much of a lull – though they only presented the recommendations Monday morning, they’ve already begun performing them.
At the press conference, Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings said the main reason for the rise in heroin-related deaths amounted to a shift in the public taste.
“We’re having this epidemic because of the shift in American preference away from alcohol,” he said. “We are seeing more use of designer drugs. This is a societal issue upon us at this time. To really reduce numbers, we work on the supply side, but it’s the demand side that drives everything for us.”
Orlando Police Chief John Mina spoke about making a distinction between drug users and drug traffickers or sellers. The latter, he said, was a much more serious crime than the former. Mina said that his department arrests those who use heroin, but also do their best to help rehabilitate those suffering from addiction. The stigma against drug use, he added, only makes it more difficult for people to get help for addiction.
The next step will be creating a smaller group to analyze how to implement the recommendations, Jacobs said. Then they will continue moving forward to reduce the number of heroin-related incidents in the area.