Overdose deaths keep climbing in Sarasota and Manatee – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

More than 260 people died last year, according to the medical examiner.

After doubling in 2015, accidental drug overdose deaths rose even further in Southwest Florida last year and remain at alarming levels, according to the data compiled by the regional medical examiner.

Dr. Russell Vega, the medical examiner for the district that includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties, finalized the 2016 overdose data this month and sent it to state officials.

The statewide data has yet to be published, but Vega provided the regional overdose figures to the Herald-Tribune.

The region saw a 7 percent increase in drug overdose deaths: 263 last year compared with 246 in 2015. That is a relatively small increase and a sign that the epidemic of overdoses caused by powerful street drugs such as heroin and derivatives of the synthetic opioid fentanyl may be starting to plateau.

But the 2016 overdose number still is exceptionally high when compared with the 135 deaths in 2014 and Vega said the region still is “absolutely in the middle of this epidemic.”

The most deadly drug locally in 2016 was carfentanil, a fentanyl derivative that is many orders of magnitude more potent than heroin. The drug contributed to 113 overdose deaths in 2016: 95 in Manatee County and 18 in Sarasota County.

“Since I’ve been keeping track, we’ve never had a year when one individual drug was implicated in so many deaths as carfentanil in 2016,” Vega said.

The drug is so deadly because it is so powerful. Tiny amounts can be fatal.

“If you live through one dose of it you’re lucky,” Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said. “Carfentanil is not made for human consumption. It’s made for large animals.”

Shift to street drugs

The data also shows a continued shift to street drugs from prescription pain pills.

State officials have cracked down on so-called “pill mill” doctors who were suspected of handing out large numbers of pain…

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