By County Commissioner Bryan Nelson
The Orange County Drug Free Coalition was created on 1999 by former mayor Mel Martinez. The coalition was created in response to an alarming number of overdoses within Orange County at the time. In 1999 the county led the state in drug overdoses, specifically heroin overdoses. The coalition was comprised of 15 community leaders and stakeholders who came together to fight the public problem. Today, the Coalition continues to be made up of 15 community leaders in several fields including, law enforcement, education, state and local governments, faith, state attorney, health, and business and community agencies.
The mission of the Drug Free Coalition is to collaborate and develop a network to strategically address the issues associated with drug abuse. This includes “preventing and reducing the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs among our youth and adults through prevention, education, enforcement and treatment.”
The latest statistics on drugs abuse in Florida are alarming and gives testament to the important work the Coalition is tasked with. According to the 2015 Medical Examiners Commission Drug Report, the total number of drug related deaths in the state of Florida have increased 13.9 percent compared to the last report released in 2014. Unfortunately, there was also a 22.7 percent increase in the number of people who died with at least one prescription drug in their system. The latest numbers local to Orange County also display an increase in drug related deaths. In 2014, there were 90 deaths in Orange County associated with heroin, a staggering 84 percent increase from 2013. In 2014, local law enforcement reported 606 heroin submissions to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab, a 400 percent increase since 2010.
While prescription drug abuse is on the rise, it is also creating a more life threatening problem. Many prescription drug abusers turn to heroin use when prescription drugs are not available. Heroin has become easier to obtain and at a very high purity level. In an effort to keep battling this kind of drug abuse, the Coalition has also been involved with a major initiative by Mayor Teresa Jacobs. In August of 2015, Mayor Teresa Jacobs launched the Heroin Task Force. The Task Force was co-chaired by Sheriff Demings and was compromised of key community leaders including, Deputy County Administrator of Public Safety and Health Services George Ralls, M.D., Phil Scarpelli, Interim Regional Director, Department of Children & Families, Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and other organizations aimed at combating drug abuse. Following formation, the task force was divided into subcommittees. Each subcommittee released 37 recommendations at the end of their assessment. The Coalition in partnership with the Orange County Office for a Drug Free Community use these recommendations as guiding principles in their battle against drug abuse.
The Drug Free Coalition provides a number of educational resources for the community so that residents can be informed on how to respond to situations related to drug use and abuse that can be found on their website: http://www.orangecountyfl.net/FamiliesHealthSocialSvcs/DrugFreeCoalition
Bryan Nelson sits on the Orange County Board of Commissioners and Represents District 7 which includes Apopka and Northwest Orange County.