Opioid use is on the rise around the country.

Opioids are painkillers such as morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal. However, legal opioid drugs prescribed by doctors for chronic pain and sold under brand names of OxyContin, Percocet, Palladone, Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox, and Demerol. Problems begin, though, when those taking the pills become addicted or the pills fall into the wrong hands and sold on the streets.


According to a report from Florida's medical examiners, there has been a 22 percent increase of drug related deaths in Florida with a 35 percent increase in opioid-related deaths. More deaths were caused by prescription drugs than illicit drugs, accounting for 61 percent of all drug deaths.

Eleven people in Florida die every day from opioids. Last year, Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide public health emergency for the epidemic, which allowed Florida to draw more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The drugs causing the most deaths are cocaine, benzodiazepines, feritanyl, morphine, heroin, alcohol, oxycodone, methadone, and methamphetamine. Deaths caused by heroine increased by 30 percent; deaths caused by fentanyl increased by 97 percent; by morphine 49 percent; oxycodone increased 28 percent; and cocaine increased by 83 percent. The highest numbers of deaths occurred in the 35-50 age group.

Florida Department of Health in Walton County is hosting a regional opioid summit April 30-May 1 at Embassy Suites in partnership with Drug Free America to talk about the issue, learn more about it, prevention and treatment programs.

Keynote speakers will be Lisa McElhaney, president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, and Carlton Hall, president and CEO of Carlton Hall Consulting.

Topics will include:

• The Opioid Epidemic: State and Federal Perspective

• The Science of Addiction

• Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: the Neonatal Perspective

• Prescription Drug Abuse and the Trending Toward Heroin and Fentanyl Analogs

• Co-occurring Disorders and Older Adults

• The Role of Prevention in the Opioid Crisis

• Understanding the Big Picture: The Societal Costs of Substance Abuse

• Overdose Prevention and Recovery: Naloxone and Medicated Assisted Treatment Programs

• Identifying Next Steps: How can we make a difference?

• Regional resources

This is the first summit of this kind to be held in Walton County or in the Panhandle, said Walton County Public Health Administrator and CEO Holly Holt. It will be held in partnership with Drug Free America.

"We received supplemental funding to provide drug awareness in the county, and we were required to provide opioid training," said Holt. "We see some addiction but we don't provide narcotics at the health department, so we don't see a lot, but I know it's there due to the statistics."

Holt said the health department received one-time funding for the summit but she is hopeful of more money coming down for other such events.

"We were given opportunity to apply for grant funding for training so we applied and received it," she said.

The event will take place May 1 at Freeport High School from 6-7:30 p.m. There are only 100 spaces available.

Registration for the summit is required and can be made by going to events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07ef4hwt71f798a1ec&llr=jqecsquab. Registration is $25 and covers breakfast and lunch on day one and breakfast on day two. All attendees will be given a completion certification and continuing education units for prevention certification, substance abuse, mental health, and marriage counseling.

Contact Amy Ronshausen with the Drug Free American Foundation at aronshausen@dfaf.org with any questions.