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Fox 13 News | 3.9.2016

Pills could worsen Manatee County's heroin epidemic

By: Mark Wilson, FOX 13 News

OSTED: MAR 09 2016 04:37PM EST

UPDATED: MAR 09 2016 11:19PM EST

TAMPA (FOX 13) - Unfortunately in recent years, Manatee County has become the home of heroin -- an epidemic that claimed 77 lives last year alone, and gives the county a dubious distinction of being number one in the statefor deaths from heroin addiction and overdoses. 

Now a new type of heroin has everyone worried: Heroin in the form of a pill. So how did heroin use get so out of hand?

The unintended consequence of Florida's crackdown on prescription pill mills ignited a frightening side effect. Addicts simply moved from prescription pills to heroin.

A recovering addict we'll call Cynthia told us about the horrors of heroin addiction.

"The amount of money that I spent is just astronomical," she said, "and at the height of my habit I was up to three to five bundles a day, so it was roughly $300 to $400 a day."

Cynthia said heroin became the singular focus of her life; nothing else mattered. And sadly she's not alone.

Lynne Knowles is the president of NOPE Hillsborough. NOPE stands for Narcotics, Overdose, Prevention and Education. She knows all too well the evils heroin can inflict on families.

First, her daughter was lost to addiction. Then, heroin finally killed her.

"It started when my daughter was in middle school. We thought it was just a coming of age experimentation," Lynne explained. 

Then, one day, she made a devastating discovery at a local Walgreens. "We found her in the bathroom with a needle in her arm."

DEA Special Agent James Dicaprio says buyers are playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette.

"A lot of times these guys are lacing heroin with fentanyl," Dicaprio said.

Fentanyl is a powerful pain narcotic, and what worries him the most is many addicts don't know what they're getting when they make a buy. "It may be the first time that you overdose, it may be the second time. A lot of times that first time could cost you your life."

Community addiction centers like Tampa's DACCO are at the front-line of the heroin crisis. Dr. Jason Fields, an addiction expert, has some sobering facts.

"We've recently seen a resurgence in the number of people being admitted for help getting off of heroin," he explained. "Many people become so sick that they can't stop on their own. That's where we can help."


More information about the work DACCO does:
Reach out to Lynne Knowles and NOPE for help:


Article Source:

TBO | 12.20.2015

Spike in heroin deaths leaves a trail of tragedy in the Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — Brianna Rae Stamm slumped over a coffee table in a Lakeland guest cottage, her hands pocked with needle marks, an empty 1-inch-square wax paper packet next to her with the words “Face to Face” stamped on it. A syringe lay on the floor near her lifeless 27-year-old body.

Her last act on Oct. 16 was to inject herself with heroin as her 30-year-old boyfriend, Donald Graham, slept on a nearby couch.

Detectives checked a cellphone Graham and Stamm shared and found this text from the person thought to be the “Face to Face” dealer: “This s--- is too strong, bro. Please don’t try to do more than half a bag at a time.”

Six days later, Lakeland police responded to a fatal overdose in another part of town. Strewn about were remnants of heroin use, including an empty 1-inch-square wax paper packet bearing the words “Face to Face.”

The victim: Donald Graham.

Stamm and Graham are part of a troubling spike in heroin overdoses reported across the nation and in Florida. It’s an increase that began in 2014 and continues to soar this year as a new and powerful brand of heroin slinks into the Sunshine State.

“Tragically, that is the mindset of many opiate addicts,” said James Hall, a drug-abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Hall, who serves on the epidemiology panel for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, added, “They believe they have the tolerance to withstand this new and powerful heroin.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported that over the past decade, heroin use more than doubled among those between the ages of 18 and 25. Heroin-related overdose deaths nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013. The CDC has not released the data for 2014.

The number of heroin-related deaths in Florida more than doubled in 2014 over the previous year, according to an annual report issued by the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission. Across the state last year, 447 people died from or had heroin in their systems when they died, compared with 199 in 2013.

Ninety-four percent of the overdoses were ruled accidental.


Lynne Knowles had lost her daughter, Jamie.

The Clearwater teen went missing a few months after her Countryside High School graduation in 2007, and Knowles tracked her down through GPS to a nearby Walgreens.

“We found her in the bathroom with a needle in her arm,” Knowles said. “That was the first true knowledge of what was going on. We had suspicions but no real idea that it had progressed to IV drug use.”

Jamie began experimenting with drugs when she was 14, Knowles said.

“We found out about it and did all the things parents do,” she said. “We got counseling and we monitored her.

“She seemed to get better, but then started using again later in high school. We had no idea. She hid it really well,” Knowles said. By the time Jamie graduated, “she was a full-blown addict, using three times a day. Still, she kept it well hidden.”

After finding Jamie in Walgreens, the family tried to get her into recovery, though the teen fought the efforts. Over the next few years, Jamie spent time in and out of jail.

“She was a bright, beautiful young girl, and she was able to manipulate the system to do everything to stay out of rehab,” she said. “We did everything we could. We went through the medically-assisted recovery program where you medically detox them. We spent thousands.”

There were times when Jamie used and disappeared. There were times when she came home clean and sober.

“It’s the story you hear from just about everybody,” Knowles said. “It’s truly a disease. We know that now.”

In 2010, Jamie agreed to get help.

“She showed up on our doorstep a skeleton,” Knowles recalled, choking back tears and taking deep breaths to suppress emotions brought on by bittersweet memories. The mother wants and needs to tell this story. “I didn’t recognize her.”

Jamie went into rehab and began getting her life together. She started college, though the urge to drift back into her old habits always was there, her mother said.

Jamie moved to Arizona to be with an uncle who had been clean and sober for 20 years. She rekindled a relationship with a young man she knew in high school. He was in the Navy, and the two married.

“She was well, happy and healthy,” Knowles said. “But she had fallen away from going to meetings and working on her own recovery.

“And while he was deployed,” her mother said, “she relapsed on heroin.”

Jamie drove to San Diego and skipped over the Mexican border, where she bought some black tar heroin.

“She had never experimented with that,” Knowles said. “We know she was using for 1½ days with that heroin, until it took her last breath.”

Jamie Godette-Church was 23 years old when she died in June 2011.

“She was my only child,” Knowles said. “A part of me died that day. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know if I wanted to live. I felt guilty.

“I wasn’t going to have what I always had dreamed of — a daughter who would have a wonderful life with a family and children. That was all taken away in one second.”

Time passes, but Knowles thinks of her daughter almost every day.

She now is president of the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education local task force, which focuses on education and awareness of substance abuse.

“That’s where I’m at right now,” she said. “I’m grateful every day that I had 23 years with my daughter.”


The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that through last month, autopsies were conducted on 26 people this year who either died directly of heroin overdoses or had heroin in their systems.

In Hillsborough County, 2004 was the high mark, with 34 heroin deaths, according to medical examiner records that date to 2000. Over the next nine years, the number of heroin deaths dropped dramatically. There were two in 2011 and two in 2012. In 2013, just three such deaths were reported.

The jump came in 2014, when 22 people died of heroin overdoses in Hillsborough County.

Pinellas and Pasco counties, which are grouped together in Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics, reported one death each in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 there were four deaths in Pasco-Pinellas. And last year, seven heroin-related deaths were reported.

One reason for the sudden bump, according to narcotics agents, is availability.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reported that heroin trafficking is increasing across the U.S.-Mexico border as the Mexican heroin trade expands.

In the past, heroin originated from far-flung places such as Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, and that limited its availability here. But drug cartels in Mexico are bumping up production in the central Mexican highlands, where poppies flourish.

In Florida, the statewide crackdown on the illegal sale of prescription drugs over the past five years has made it less expensive for drug users to buy heroin, methamphetamine and synthetic drugs.

“We were very successful across the state in reducing the pill mills and the easy access to prescription opiates,” said Cindy Grant, executive director of the Hillsborough Anti-Drug Alliance, “but then people began looking for something else to replace it.”

Users not seeking treatment, she said, risk their lives.

“We have learned that the heroin more available now is deadlier,” she said. “Some of the heroin is laced with fentanyl, leading to many overdose deaths.”


Dealers often mix heroin with fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller that increases the drug’s potency and reduces cost for the dealer. In Florida, deaths directly caused by fentanyl alone in 2014 increased by 115 percent over 2013, records show.

“A lot of people are not aware,” she said, “that the heroin out there on the street is laced and deadly.”

Addicts think the heroin they’re ingesting is high-quality, said Hall, the South Florida epidemiologist, “but it’s actually adulterated with poisonous fentanyl, which makes it 50 to 100 times more potent.”

He said the nation is poised for a heroin epidemic.

“It’s kind of the perfect storm,” he said. “There is a significant increase in the potency and the quality of heroin produced specifically in Mexico. More recently, we’re seeing the white Mexican heroin with a higher purity level” in the eastern U.S., including Florida.

The other key factor is prescription opiates, taken illegally without prescriptions, he said, “and that’s literally the breeding ground for the nation’s heroin epidemic.”

Eighty percent of new heroin users are addicted to prescription opioids, Hall said. Most of them are 18 to 30 years old, white and equally divided gender-wise.

“The crackdown on pill mills has been effective in reducing the supply side of prescription opioid medications,” he said. “But increased heroin use was the alternative.”

He said one of the failures of the 2010 crackdown was that although it addressed the supply of illegal opioids, the state that same year cut back funding for addiction treatment.

Hall suggested a few ways to deal with the approaching heroin epidemic:

♦ Reduce inappropriate prescribing patterns of opiates; there are other ways to manage pain effectively.

♦ Increase resources and access for treatment.

♦ Provide naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opiate overdoses. It has been used by paramedics and emergency rooms for years and should be available over the counter for relatives of addicts.

♦ Educate families of addicts about the signs and symptoms of overdoses and how to intervene.

♦ Implement more needle-exchange programs. They do not encourage use but can connect addicts with resources to get them into treatment.

Seven weeks ago, Tampa was one of 50 cities that participated in a National Candlelight Vigil to erase the stigma associated with drug addiction, which is one of Knowles’ main goals, and to remember the 30,000 Americans who die every year from drug overdoses.

“Every story is unique,” said the Clearwater mother who still grieves for her daughter, “but the thread is always the same. It can be anyone. I know people from all walks of life who have lost a child. It doesn’t hurt any more or less based on the circumstances.

“The pain for those left behind, I think, is all the same.”

Article Source:

ThinkProgress | 2.9.2015

New Anti-Drug Programs Hope To Focus Less On Fear, More On Facts

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

By Sam P.K. Collins

Within the last five years, nonmedical prescription drug use has skyrocketedamong high school students and young adults, many of whom illegally secure opioids and painkillers from friends and relatives. The recent phenomenon has sparked questions among parents, educators, and lawmakers about how to best address what has become a significant public health issue.

The answer may be in the form of new drug prevention programs — including one titled Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) — that are popping up across the country. These programs aim to challenge popular but dangerous messages that encourage drug use with tangible information about the dangers of prescription painkillers, as well as the stories of parents and students who suffered the consequences of poor decisions.

The Downingtown Area School District in Chester County, PA counts among the school systems planning to use NOPE this year. More than 500 students there recently listened to a recording of a mother’s frantic 911 call moments after she found her 17-year-old son’s lifeless body in the aftermath of his overdose. Members of the group later took turns holding the dead teenager’s urn and skimming through photos of other teenagers who died of overdoses.

“All of these kids were around our age. It felt personal,” Michael Senn, an 18-year-old senior at Downingtown High School East, told the Associated Press.

Lawrence Mussoline, the district’s superintendent, has also been meeting with local leaders and parents to discuss the best ways to combat drug abuse and peer pressure among high school students. He told Daily Local Newsthat community input, as well as survey data from local adolescents about their drug use, will help school district officials implement programming that best equips young people with the information that will compel them to think twice before taking part in harmful activities.

This focus on opiate addiction via graphic, in-school presentations — which have so far taken place in schools in Pennsylvania and Illinois — signals educators’ and parents’ newest campaign against the ever-evolving threat of drug addiction. Lawmakers in New JerseyNew York, and Wisconsin have also proposed measures that require public schools to teach students more about opioid drugs.

After alcohol and marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medication like Vicodin, Adderall, Valium, and Xanax are the most commonly abusedsubstances among young people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). People who take these drugs at high dosages for nonmedical purposes risk health complications — including breathing issues and brain damage — and, in many cases, death, especially when they mix the substances with alcohol and other drugs. In 2013, prescription opioids caused more than 16,000 deaths nationally across all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cindy Grant, the director of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance in Tampa, FL, says that teens can easily access these medications because they don’t need to go through a dealer.

“It’s your mom’s medicine cabinet, your grandmother’s medicine cabinet, an ill family member,” Grant, whose son overdosed on prescription medication, told ABC Action News in 2013 during the rollout of the NOPE program in a local school district. “These kids are getting the prescription drugs from their own houses and having what they call ‘skittle parties’ in some instances. That’s when kids bring different prescription pills and then they put everything in a bowl and just take pills from it.”

The opioid abuse problem has gone beyond the medicine cabinets. As states have started to crack down on prescription drug abuse, some young people have turned to heroin as a cheaper and easier substitute. A National Institutes of Health survey found that nearly half of young people who use painkillers — particularly by crushing and sniffing them — eventually move on to heroin as their drug of choice. It isn’t any less harmful of an alternative: Heroin deaths increased by nearly 40 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to data collected by the CDC. The national death rate has been on the rise for nearly three years.

While educators and lawmakers across the country acknowledge the need for drug prevention programs, efforts have been stalled by an ongoing debate over how to effectively educate young people.

A large body of research has confirmed that the drug prevention programs of the 1980s and 1990s were ineffective, partly because the curricula relied on scare tactics that don’t convince people to avoid using drugs. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education, also known as DARE, was implemented in schools across the country for years despite the evidence that it does not lower the rate of drug use among young adults. In 2001, the U.S. Surgeon General designated DARE as an ineffective prevention program. The U.S. General Accountability Office later found that rates of illicit drug use didn’t change among students who underwent the 10-week DARE course.

Proponents of NOPE tout the program’s strategies as centered on the science of addiction, and less reliant on the scare tactics that fueled the “Just Say No” message of the Reagan and Bush eras. It tracks more closely with NIDA’s recommendations. That group defines an effective drug-prevention program as one that addresses all forms of drug abuse, tailors itself to specific populations, and includes family members and other support systems.

Students who enroll in NOPE learn about the dangers of prescription drugs through interactive computer programs in combination with presentations that have been approved by licensed psychologists, prevention professionals, and parents who lost children to drug and alcohol-related incidents — a total deviation from what DARE has offered. NOPE instructors also teach students about the symptoms of a drug overdose so they can recognize when to seek medical attention.

That may please critics of previous anti-drug programs who have previously spoken out against the strategies employed under DARE.

“Often, administrators adopt school-based drug-prevention programs and continue to use them as long as they are funded, with little attention paid to their long-term effectiveness,” Lisa L. Sample and Crystal Fuller wrote in a 2013 article in which they stressed the need for more student self-reported surveys and program evaluation. Sample and Fuller, who are public policy and substance abuse experts respectively, say a “one size fits all’ solution to drug addiction won’t work.

“What all of this means is that if we wish to take a truly effective approach to drug use prevention, we need to be mindful of the variations and changes over time in children’s drug-use behavior and continually alter program components to address emerging trends,” they continued. “School-based drug-prevention programs are needed. As resources for prevention programs in schools decrease, it is imperative that the resources that remain be used effectively rather than allowing existing programs to continue unchanged or creating new one-size-fits-all programs based on local anecdotes and myths.”


Article Source:

ABC Action News | 11.19.2013

NOPE - Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education, a new drug-prevention program in middle schools

TAMPA BAY - It was the summer of 2006.

Spencer Foster just finished middle school and was excited for his freshman year at Sickles High School to begin.  Spencer never set foot on a high school campus though.  Dead at just 14.

"It was a combination of oxycodone and alcohol in his system," says his mother, Michele Phillips.

She says being an avid supporter of N.O.P.E., Narcotics Overdose and Prevention Education, is somewhat therapy for her family.  Hoping that their tragedy saves a life.  Tuesday was the first N.O.P.E. presentation in a Hillsborough County Middle School.  The program usually reserved for just high schoolers, but many say that's way too late.

"We need to start in the middle school ages," says Cindy Grant with N.O.P.E.  "We need to reach them then so that they don't make those bad choices."

Grant says parents need to understand kids aren't getting drugs from some strange person in an alley anymore.  The way a drug dealer looks has completely changed through the years.

"It's your mom's medicine cabinet, your grandmother's medicine cabinet, an ill family member," says Grant.  "These kids are getting the prescription drugs from their own houses and having what they call 'skittle parties' in some instances.  That's when kids bring different prescription pills and then they put everything in a bowl and just take pills from it."

Phillips and Grant say they just hope the N.O.P.E. program will show kids and their parents that education is key, before one mistake changes their lives forever.


Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office locations

District I 14102 N. 20th Street, Tampa ; 813-247-0600

District II 2310 N. Falkenburg Road, Tampa; 813-247-8555

District III 7202 Gunn Highway, Tampa; 813-247-0330

District IV 508 33rd Street, SE, Ruskin; 813-247-0455



866-612-NOPE (PHONE) 


Article Souce:

Friends, family members remember loved ones lost to addiction

By Mark Wolfenbarger | Tribune Staff

Published: October 29, 2015

Updated: October 29, 2015 at 10:50 PM

Heads are bowed for prayer during the NOPE Candle Light Vigil Thursday night at Hillsborough High School. JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF

Heads are bowed for prayer during the NOPE Candle Light Vigil Thursday night at Hillsborough High School. JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF

TAMPA — It’s been almostsfive years, but Mary Matuch’s pain still lingers.

It was Christmas Day in 2010 when Mutuch’s daughter, Sara Tran, died after overdosing on opioids and Xanax.

“For me, it’s still like it happened yesterday,” Matuch said of her 23-year-old daughter. “I want to honor her somehow.”

Matuch was one of hundreds of people who gathered at Hillsborough High School on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to honor the thousands of Americans who die each year of a drug overdose.

Tampa is one of more than 50 cities holding a National Candlelight Vigil this week in an effort to erase the stigma associated with drug addiction and remember the estimated 30,000 Americans who die every year from drug overdose. The Florida-based Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) Task Force, Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Public Schools sponsor the local vigil.

The event was held in the dimly lit school auditorium, where a projection screen flashed some of the pictures adorning the adjoining lobby’s walls.

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said heroin is becoming popular again and the prescription drug epidemic still exists. Drug addicts, she said, need community support.

“Until we know what causes addiction, we’ve got to do everything we can with the information we have today to stop this scourge of drug and alcohol abuse,” she said.

Lynne Knowles, president of NOPE of Hillsborough, lost her daughter, Jamie Godette-Church, to a heroin overdose at 23. Through the vigil, Knowles said, she can honor her daughter each year while building a bond with others who have experienced loss to drug addiction.

“I think all the families that come here get to meet one another and know that they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s quite a community we’re trying to build here; for all of us to come together to support one another.”

Recovering drug addict Tom Wentz told the crowd he went from job to job across the country to feed his addiction of 20 years and watched some of his friends die from overdoses. Wentz he said he once had a wife, children and a business but lost them all.

Wentz said the only friends he had during his years of addiction were those who shared a common habit: drugs. That changed six years ago, Wentz said, when he got clean.

“Today, my friends are there for me because they want to know I’m doing OK,” Wentz said.

After the indoor assembly, attendees gathered on the schools front lawn, where they lit candles and formed a circle around the flag pole.

Before the event began, family members of those who died from drug overdose roamed the auditorium’s lobby and looked at the photographs adorning the room’s walls, stopping to read the biographies below each photograph.

The photographs were provided by friends and family members of those who died, Knowles said.

“Anyone who’s lost someone can go on and add their picture, add a memorial message, and we will add them to our wall,” Knowles said.

(813) 259-7619


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