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Police, clinicians to use 'in-your-face' approach in opioid crisis on Treasure Coast

Police, clinicians to use 'in-your-face' approach in opioid crisis on Treasure Coast (WPEC)
Police, clinicians to use 'in-your-face' approach in opioid crisis on Treasure Coast (WPEC)
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The number of deaths linked to the powerful opioid, fentanyl, is growing on the Treasure Coast, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.

Now local law enforcement and drug treatment agencies are trying to figure out where it is coming from and how to stop it with a "zero-in effect."

"We're seeing a rise in the number of Fentanyl deaths in our four counties area," Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry said.

Up and down the Treasure Coast, a powerful opioid, many times stronger than oxycodone, has hit the streets, leaving a trail of bodies behind.

St. Lucie County has had the most deaths linked to fentanyl, followed by Martin County, Indian River County, then Okeechobee County.

Local police and clinical officers hope to use a new strategy to get these drugs off the streets and out of the hands of addicts.

"I just wanted to die," said Tony Gonzalez, a recovered opiate addict. "I didn't want to do what I was doing anymore. So I kinda looked up and said, 'God either help me or take me.'"

After 15 years of living with his addiction, it's difficult for Gonzalez to remember the good times.

But photos of his family help.

"I'm born and raised in this area," Gonzalez said. "So I'm a local Floridian. Not many of us around. But that's me. I'm her baby. I'm the baby. I'm a momma's boy."

His life took a tragic turn when he had his appendix taken out as a teenager.

"I can remember the shot that they gave me and the feeling of it going through my body and saying, 'Holy moly, that's the best feeling in my life. I can't wait to do that again.'"

At one point, Gonzalez was down to 119 pounds with scars from needle injections all over his face.

That's when he moved to St. Lucie County.

"By 16 years-old, I was a full-blown addict," Gonzalez said. "I would break it down and put it in a needle and shoot it in my arm."

Where police and recovery clinicians are going is after the source of these deadly addictions.

"The opioid crisis is still here and it is bad," Chief Touchberry said. "We need to focus on where fentanyl is coming from. How can we partner with area agencies to investigate and arrest our local dealers?"

St. Lucie County and the Treasure Coast Opioid Task Force are taking an "in-your-face" approach, going to where the problem is at its worst to try to cut off the supply, jail the dealers and get their customers lives back on track.

"We are also working to get some geographical mapping of where this occurs," Deb Dreher said. "So we can physically go to those places. It's about as bad as it gets. We are seeing too many deaths. One death is too many."

Seven years sober, Gonzalez is now part of the solution, hitting the streets with the outreach team to help those struggling like he once did.

"We're going to lose people and that's a sad thing, but we are also going to help people. Awesome, there's nothing like that," he said.

The Treasure Coast has not been spared the Opioid Crisis that is ravaging our nation. At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, several interested community members and representatives of several organizations met to discuss the scope and severity of the opioid problem in St. Lucie County.

By mid - 2017, as reports indicated that the numbers of overdose deaths had reached crisis proportions, it was decided by this group that the community needed a broader and more integrated response.

Over 60 individuals from law enforcement, first responders, justice and legal professions, hospitals, addiction treatment facilities, health departments, local and state officials from all four counties of the Treasure Coast, including Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie Counties attended that first meeting and many of the monthly meetings held since.

Subcommittees were developed based on task forces of other communities.

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