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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — On any given day in South Florida, paramedics will field at least a handful of overdose calls.
When they arrive, they often find people passed out, a needle nearby.
Local leaders say the crisis has reached epidemic proportions, putting first responders’ lives at risk and a strain on community resources.
CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana rode along with a Miami Fire Captain to see just how “The Silent Killer” is claiming lives on our streets every day.
On this particular Wednesday morning, Captain Archie Vazquez said they were already on their ninth overdose call of the day. Those nine were a small sample of the roughly 4,800 overdoses each year in South Florida.
Last month, Miami Police tweeted a picture of a 2-month-old baby found in a car with two unconscious adults.
Investigators immediately suspected they “OD’d on heroin.”
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer says we are at crisis level.
“We are talking about an average overdose in South Florida every two hours at a rate of 12 victims a day,” said Ferrer.
“They’re coming from all walks of life. Everywhere. Not just one particular demographic of people,” Capt. Vazquez said.
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use more than doubled in the past decade among young people ages 18 to 25.
In many of the cases, the heroin is laced with a powerful synthetic opioid called Fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin.
“(It’s) a lot stronger, makes patients go into severe respiratory distress and could lead to cardiac arrest,” Capt. Vazquez said. “So definitely more manpower, more units to respond. A greater increase in call volume and call times. It’s an incredible amount of stress on us.”
With every call, first responders are putting their own lives in danger.
The needles and the substance inside them can be deadly.
“Law enforcement officers, if they touch Fentanyl or inhale it, they can die on the scene,” Ferrer said. “That’s how serious this is.”
To combat this growing epidemic, firefighters and paramedics are now driving around Miami with boxes of a drug called Narcan, an opiate antidote.
“Last year we spent $21,000 on it,” Capt. Vazquez said.
This year, he says they’ve spent more than $150,000 on the opiate reversal medication.
The problem is causing a financial strain and possible delays that could affect you.
“If somebody calls rescue and all our units are on overdoses, it could delay,” explained Capt. Vazquez. “But we do an exceptional job. Not only responding but clearing calls and making units available. But it does create a problem. Especially in the afternoon.”
“There is one thing that has become very clear,” Ferrer said. “The unacceptable rise of heroin and opiate abuse has gotten to such a level that we all realize that no one can battle themselves.”