In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam helmed an opioid roundtable.
Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.
But even with that action, the problem is crippling the city, impacting law enforcement and medical professionals, even as the main killer — fentanyl, a synthetic opioid — is becoming more readily available to more demographics.
The city has an opioid treatment program; the goal of the six-month, $1.5 million pilot is a simple “reduction” in overdoses, recidivism, and death.
Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the major issue locally, with the diluted analogue potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.
Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.
Local Medical Examiner Valerie Rao told Putnam that the morgue was being expanded; this is something that is happening in Palm Beach also, Putnam said.
Putnam noted that the opioid crisis is an issue statewide, with law enforcement especially concerned about budget impacts, treatment, and the tools needed for prosecutors to build cases.
“It’s a multi-headed monster and it’s eroding our state and our communities from within,” Putnam said, noting the Jacksonville program is well-regarded, a tool that could “rescue a generation from opioids.”
Crack and meth have been issues in the past, Putnam noted, though opioids have overtaken meth on the “interstate corridor.”
“This is different,” Putnam said, than previous drug waves, and requires different solutions.
Jacksonville’s program director, Dr. Raymond Pomm, noted that many patients would rather die than get off their drugs.
One woman called her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor right before taking “her last bag,” Pomm said, with a request: “Don’t let my son see my body.”
Pomm noted the risk of OD has gone down in recent months, but the problem is “messy,” and diluted acetyl fentanyl is adding to the problem. Acetyl fentanyl is still more potent than heroin.
“It only expands the problem, and the potential problem is even worse,” Pomm said, noting that cocaine is laced with fentanyl now.
“We’re starting to see people OD on fentanyl through cocaine. We’re starting to see it on methamphetamine, marijuana. It’s being put in everything,” Pomm said.
Pills led people to heroin and the fentanyl issue, Pomm said. With cocaine and marijuana, Big Pharma is not to blame.
But because fentanyl can be used to cut everything, it’s an equal opportunity killer, targeting all demographics.
Mac Heavener of the state attorney’s office noted a paradox: dealers cut the contraband historically to maximize profits, but when cut with fentanyl, potency increases along with profit.
A mother of an overdose victim named Derek Patrick described his downward spiral from pain pills in his college football locker room to “shooting up … rehab … jail.” He cleaned up, got back into college football, then relapsed and overdosed. And he was found dead in his dorm room.
“He was never prescribed pain pills. They were shared easily. They were everywhere,” she said.
A representative of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office noted that the drugs come in via mail from outside local jurisdictions. Some can be intercepted, but putting charges on someone for receipt of contraband is a different matter.
One participant from the law enforcement world noted that unlike cocaine dealers, who change their numbers frequently, heroin dealers don’t change their numbers. And many of the users “like fentanyl … like teetering on the edge of death.”
“If they get pure heroin, they aren’t happy,” he said, hoping there would be grant money for better software to break phone encryption.
“These patients know they’re going to die and still take the risk,” a participant from the medical community said.
Putnam’s trip to Jacksonville comes at a time when his campaign is besieged on all sides.
Even this visit to Jacksonville got pushback from the Florida Democratic Party.
“Adam Putnam has been in office for twenty years and consistently opposed solutions that would help Floridians suffering from substance abuse get the care they need,” said FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe.
“From opposing Medicaid Expansion to supporting Trumpcare,” Donohoe continued, “Putnam has spent much of his political career fighting policies that would help Floridians get the care they need. Only a career politician like Adam Putnam would have the nerve to host a roundtable about the opioid crisis while opposing policies that would actually address this epidemic.”