Bay County’s opioid epidemic turns to fentanyl

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Removing a mountain of fentanyl from the streets is a major victory but it’s far from the last battle.

On May 13, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office seized 235,000 milligrams of fentanyl from the street. However, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said the problem will return.

“It’s all like a roller coaster,” Ford said. “When we take off a major source of supply, which I would consider this a major source of supply, we see the trends die down for a period until somebody out there finds another source of supply somewhere, or a source of supply is able to reestablish in the area.”

At 100 times stronger than morphine, the lethal dose of fentanyl is a little as three milligrams.

“The addiction is so strong that the risk [of death] is worth it,” said Lieutenant Kevin Francis about addicts.

Officials said that with the introduction of fentanyl, they have seen an increase in drug seizures in size and amount, as well as an increase in overdoses. They added that they are mostly seeing it lacing other street drugs.

“Right now, the trend is to mix heroin and fentanyl to make it stronger,” Francis said.

This means people could be taking lethal doses of fentanyl unknowingly.

“In a situation where somebody bought what they thought was Xanax on the street could actually be a deadly dose of fentanyl,” Ford said.

Ford also said that they are also concerned with poorly mixed drugs. Because of the small lethal amount required of fentanyl, poorly mixed drugs could create hot spots of fentanyl within the main drug.

“The person may be thinking they’re getting a small normal dose of heroin,” Ford said, “but they could actually be pulling from the portion of the substance that has a lethal dose of fentanyl in it and that’s where we’re seeing our drug overdoses and deaths.”

By the end of 2016, Ford said the overdoses became so frequent that the BCSO deployed NARCAN to its deputies. NARCAN is a nasal spray that quickly reverses an opioid overdose and is harmless otherwise. It does not work on non-opiates like cocaine overdoses or alcohol poisoning and can sometimes be considered the first sign that an overdose was caused by fentanyl.

RELATED: Narcan, the difference between life and death

Ford said that they also administered special gloves to deputies because any absorption of fentanyl into the skin by touching could lead to an officer overdose.

graphic credit: Miabelle Salzano

The opioid epidemic in Bay County dates back to the late 1990s when OxyContin burst on the scene. Officials say that most of the drugs in Bay County come in from the southern border or are shipped in from China and travel through large cities like Atlanta. But since the coronavirus, most of the drug traffic has stopped.

Francis said that they have seen a shortage of most drugs since the pandemic. He added that drug runners usually try to mix themselves in with the general car traffic on the roads. But there has been a lack of travel since the shutdown.

“People are too paranoid to move anything,” he said.

Francis also said that prescription drugs like pills are easier to access and abuse than illegal drugs like meth. While fentanyl is illegal, it can be administered through a prescription and purchased at most pharmacies as gel patches to treat severe pain in cancer patients. Francis said that it’s possible to manufacture street fentanyl from these patches.

“It just seem like every wave that we see get a little bit worse,” Ford said.

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