Broward County is the statewide epicenter of a fentanyl epidemic ravaging the nation. During Spring Break, the deadly effects of the problem were made even more evident when thousands of college students flocked to the county, resulting in growing overdoses and hospitalizations. In one terrifying incident, six spring breakers from New York, including five West Point cadets, suffered severe fentanyl overdoses. The incident put faces and names on a crisis affecting every level of our society.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine which mirrors the effects of heroin. Just a few salt-sized grains can lead to rapid death. Whether used as a cheap filler in illicit drugs or sold as a counterfeit pill made to look like prescription opioids, fentanyl is the leading contributor to overdose deaths in the United States.
The statistics are striking. Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, with about two-thirds of the deaths linked to fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. In Florida, Broward County leads the state in fentanyl-related deaths. In 2020, 798 people died due to accidental overdoses, with 611 cases involving fentanyl. That's a staggering 72 percent increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl from the year prior. Though cases for 2021 and 2022 are still being analyzed, they, unfortunately, appear on track to set new records.
While this public health emergency is historic, the Broward Sheriff's Office and community partners are committed to ending the deadly drug plague through a three-pronged approach of enforcement, intervention and education.
BSO detectives and deputies continue to track down the dealers and distributors of this poison and put them behind bars. Earlier this year, our Strategic Investigations Division (SID) and our law enforcement partners took down members of the criminal street gang, Alwoods Gang. Detectives seized large quantities of illegal drugs during the operation, including more than 20 kilos of heroin and fentanyl.
The Broward Sheriff's Office also assists those who are struggling with addiction. For example, we have been instrumental in getting professional peer specialists deployed to Broward Health hospitals, so patients discharged after an overdose can be guided into appropriate treatment. In addition, BSO provides its deputies with the anti-opioid overdose drug, Narcan. BSO also coordinates a federal grant that facilitates the availability of Narcan to law enforcement agencies in Broward County.
Offering ongoing education to the community on the impact of illicit drugs is paramount to our efforts. As a member of the county's Community Response Team, BSO conducts community education programs and advises the public about the dangers of fentanyl. This team comprises nearly 100 members, including local law enforcement, treatment providers, epidemiologists, hospitals, and others working to combat opiate abuse in Broward County. In addition, to unify drug mitigation efforts between private and public sector organizations, I serve as the co-chair of Project Opioid Broward. The statewide initiative is a collaborative action by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance Foundation and Florida Blue Foundation to address the opioid crisis.
Stopping this epidemic is a community effort, and we all need to work together to find solutions and save lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are places to go for help and resources. Call 211 or visit Broward Addiction Recovery Center and The United Way of Broward County for more information.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony