Spate of drug overdoses alarms Manatee emergency workers

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BRADENTON, Fla. -  A spike in deadly drug overdoses alarms Manatee County emergency workers, who say it could be a consequence of Florida's crackdown on pill mills. “Here at Manatee Memorial, we take care of overdoses every day,” says Teresa Rawe, the hospital's Emergency Services Medical Director. “It's pretty rare, though, we have a death every day, much less eight of them in seven days.”

Police say an uptick in heroin use shows how well the crackdown on prescription drugs has worked. But pills do come in precise doses, and those who venture onto street drugs to find their high, also wander into a greater danger zone.

“With the heroin, it comes in different strengths. There's no quality control in these drug manufacturing plants for opiates. “So, presuming that what's happening is this last batch of heroin that has hit Manatee County is much more potent than people are used to seeing,” Rawe says.

Those who have wound up in a Manatee Memorial ER after an OD range in age from 16 to 42. Most are in their 20s and 30s, Rawe says. The drug seems to put them to sleep, then their breathing and heartbeats just stop.

"And I think we're going to see potentially the same numbers stay elevated until there's a determination of what is going on," says Capt. Larry Luh, acting Chief of Emergency Medical Services in Manatee County. An ambulance that must answer an overdose call might not be able to respond to a heart attack or stroke victim. So it's not only drug addicts who feel an impact.

“We work really hard to save lives, and we like that if somebody is in a critical state, to at least give us something to work with, and by taking a drug that was their choice – as opposed to a heart attack that wasn't someone's choice – is really difficult for us to even understand,” Rawe says.