State officials meet in Manatee County to tackle heroin crisis

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The pressure is mounting across the state to handle the growing heroin crisis and Manatee County is taking it very seriously. Governor Rick Scott commissioned a workshop to address the issue on Tuesday and it was standing room only.

Experts say heroin is rampant, killing people throughout Manatee County. Budgets are breaking and law enforcement is overwhelmed. 

“Coming from a lifestyle of addiction, I know that it’s a force of darkness that’s coming against our region and we need to stand together to break that,” said former addict Dana Damstra.

A team of state officials, including the DCF Secretary, met with local lawmakers and counseling services.

“It was important for us to get here to understand what was going on on the ground,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll.

The state is receiving $54 million in federal funds over the next two years, so this team wanted to know what resources this area needs.

“We’re three years behind, but we come here today to try and make a difference,” said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells.

It was a chance to understand the addiction problem from former addicts, like Julia Negron. She battled heroin addiction for decades while she was married to rock stars from bands like The Doors and Three Dog Night.

“When you’re drug dependent, it’s like air, it’s like breathing, its like food. It’s like you’re starving and your body is telling you, ‘you have to get something, you have to get some food.’ When someone says ‘this dope over here, it’s killing people. They’re dropping like flies.’ You go ‘oh good. I want to get that, because that’s a better product and I’m tired of getting ripped off and I have to have it,’” explained Negron.

Now clean, Negron has dedicated her life to dispersing Narcan and helping addicts. She’s skeptical of meetings like this one.

“You’re not really hearing solutions and there’s something we hear all the time, ‘you keep talking and we die.’ That has to stop. We really have to be innovative about what we’re gonna do,” said Negron.

State officials are determined to take action. They’re pushing state lawmakers to earmark more funding toward this crisis.

They’re also working with doctors to disperse fewer opioid medicines, and collaborating with schools to educate more kids about these dangers.

They say ultimately, prevention is key to fixing this. Too many people are dying and they want to stop this crisis as soon as possible.STORIES THAT OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON-

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