According to the CDC, an average of 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
And some communities are harder hit than others.
Anne Powell, a toxicology and risk assessment PhD student in the USF College of Public Health (COPH), is attempting to gain a better understanding of local victims of opioid overdoses by studying retrospective data collected from 2011-2016. Powell hopes to get the results of her research published and present them at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting, held this spring in Baltimore, Md.
“I am especially interested in fentanyl and fentanyl analogs—which are roughly 50-100 times more potent than morphine—and their role in overdose deaths,” she said.
According to Powell, fentanyl has likely become extremely potent because of its ability to rapidly bind to receptors in the brain and because of its inability to be eliminated from the body quickly.
So far, Powell has discovered an astonishing 517 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths from 2011 through 2016 in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
The vast majority of victims in fentanyl overdose deaths are young, white adult males, which mirrors most data collected on a national level.
The situation is grim, but Powell does see collaborative ways in which the community and public health professionals can combat the issue.
“Local agencies need to work together—and that includes doctors, hospitals, families with members suffering from addiction, law enforcement and addiction-recovery professionals.”
Pinellas County, a major hot spot for the opioid epidemic in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, has already taken steps to mitigate the crisis by creating an Opioid Task Force. Members of this task force will monitor certain neighborhoods where overdoses are common and be on call to deliver lifesaving medication to victims when needed
Overall, Powell believes important strides toward solving the current crisis must start with the general public gaining a better understanding of those who suffer from opioid addiction.
“We need to recognize that opioid addiction is a disease,” said Powell, “and we need to work together to de-stigmatize addiction.”
Story by Cody Brown, USF College of Public Health