Addicting and dying: Opioid-related deaths on the rise in Palm Beach County


A new FDLE report sheds light on the how many lives are being taken by the opioid epidemic, many of them from Palm Beach County.

Drug overdoses are also killing people under the age of 50 at a faster rate than HIV, gun deaths and even car crashes, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths.

"The opioid epidemic is an epidemic of addiction and deaths," said Jim Hall an epidemiologist for Nova Southeastern University.

Hall added while the grim numbers in the report from Florida's Medical Examiners was anticipated, the dramatic increases in all types of drug-related deaths was not expected.

"What is particularly disturbing is the fact that Palm Beach County actually leads the state more than any other county, in most of all the opioid related deaths, including heroin and fentanyl and fentanyl analogs."

In 2016, Florida saw a 97 percent increase in deaths caused by the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Florida also reports an alarming rise in prescription related deaths.

Over-the-counter drugs were involved in 694 deaths in 2016 in West Palm Beach, a 76.1 percent increase over 2015 when 394 people died with one or more pharmaceutical drugs in their systems, according to the report.

“In the past two years they have been on the rise again,” Hall said.

Palm Beach County also ranked among the top four counties with the highest rates of cocaine-related deaths, at 405.

State Attorney Dave Aronberg explained despite local and state efforts to slow the crisis down, the increase in drug related deaths highlights the need for action against drug traffickers and manufactures.

“This is going to take an all hands on deck approach and that includes holding the drug distributors and manufactures accountable for pushing this stuff to the public like it was over the counter pain medication,” Aronberg said.

The opioid crisis is costing Americans billions of dollars.

A first-of-its-kind report released by the White House puts the economic cost of the opioid crisis at $504 billion in 2015.

An even higher price tag is anticipated for 2016 because of a 22 percent increase in drug deaths.

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