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The Drug Free Collier Event In Florida Addresses the Devastating Opioid Epidemic

On June 17, Hodges University in North Naples, Florida hosted a public event entitled " Heroin and Prescription Painkillers - A Time for Community Action" and sponsored by Drug Free Collier, a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent and minimize juvenile substance abuse in Collier County. The event was graced by the presence of two opioid abuse experts who served as keynote speakers - Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of the Phoenix House Foundation Inc., a national drug treatment organization and Brenda Iliff, executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples.

Dr. Kolodny expressed his concerns over the unprecedented magnitude of the nation's opioid abuse epidemic, which is far worse than the cocaine and heroin epidemics from the 1970's and 80's combined. Discussing the demographic aspect of the opioid pandemic, he underlined that it's beyond striking how "white" this devastating epidemic is. Dr. Andrew Kolodny shared his theory that in general, medical doctors see a white individual as less likely to become addicted to prescription opiate pain relievers as well as less likely to sell their medications on the street. He also emphasized that there is a fine line between physical dependence and addiction and that today, 10-12 million Americans take prescription opiate painkillers for chronic pain.

Speaking to over one hundred attendees that included Naples law enforcement representatives, medical professionals, treatment specialists, and community members whose lives have been impacted by opioid addiction, Dr. Kolodny also discussed how the pharmaceutical industry fueled the opiate abuse epidemic, known as the worst drug crisis in America's history, starting back in 1996. The Drug Free Collier event held at Hodges University was aimed at providing participants with the necessary knowledge to strengthen community efforts and develop a community-based action plan for properly addressing the opiate epidemic, identify the right resources for opiate abuse prevention, intervention, and referral to specialized treatment, and effectively use the "Toolkit for community action" with its accompanying DVD for the implementation of the action plans to combat this lethal epidemic.

Deaths from heroin and prescription opiate pain relievers (OPR), especially fentanyl have skyrocketed in the state of Florida. There were approximately 6 times as many overdose deaths per capita ( heroin - 7.8 times and fentanyl - 4.7 times as many ) during the first 6 months of 2015 as they were during the first 6 months of 2007. From January through June 2015 ( the latest data available), the number of deaths from opioid overdoses reached 45 in Collier County alone, according to the Florida Medical Examiner's mid-year report for 2015.

Collier County officials discussed the surge in heroin use after the state's crackdown on pill mills in 2010. Detective Morgan Rogers said that although there are still lots of pain pills on the street, heroin is cheaper ( $20 a dose compared to $30 for a pill of oxycodone) and less fearful to younger people as it can be snorted. The administration of Narcan, a life-saving medicine that works by reversing the effects of a prescription opiate or heroin overdose, has significantly increased from 98 times in 2013, and will be administered a projected 285 time by the end of 2016, according to Captain Anthony Maro with the Collier County's EMS.

Brenda Iliff also spoke at the Drug Free Collier event, informing attendees of the different treatment approaches available for different age groups at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples. Iliff stated that older individuals struggling with opioid addiction can do very well in outpatient care following detox; however, she did not expect to see older patients who have relapsed with a prescription OPR addiction after several years or even decades of recovery.

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