JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of arrests related to heroin use and possession are up, and deaths attributed to overdoes of the drug overdoses have more than doubled in one year, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Friday.
Williams, along with the sheriffs of Clay and Nassau counties and the director of the Duval County Health Department, held a news conference to address what they call an epidemic in heroin use.
In 2014, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office recorded 17 people died involving heroin. Last year, there were 45 deaths attributed to heroin use -- a 265 percent increase in one year.
"We expect these numbers to climb," said Dr. Wells, health department director.
The dramatic increase comes after law enforcement worked on shutting down pill mills. The unintended consequence was that those addicted to drugs turned to other substances, mainly heroin, because it is cheaper and easy to get on the streets.
Community leaders said they need everyone's help to combat the growing trend of heroin use. The drug is contributing to more deaths all over the country and especially in the state of Florida.
"We understand what's going on out there in the streets and the drug culture," Williams said. "We want to make everyone aware, with the closure of the pill mills, you usually have a group of people, a population addicted to opiate based drugs."
The problem is not limited to Jacksonville.
"Prior to this year, we didn't see any heroin-related deaths," Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leaper said. "But over the last two weeks, since February 17, we've investigated three possible heroin-related deaths."
Williams says the heroin is coming from Mexico and easy to access. Law enforcement agencies in different counties are monitoring the same trends.
The health department says it's partnering with Drug Free Duval to develop a plan to fight the problem and planning to include community leaders, law enforcement, schools and organizations.
"More than anything, I implore you as loved ones and members of this community, and perhaps those of you who have drug problems yourself, reach out for assistance immediately, so we might help you change the direction," Wells said.
The health department says there are many resources for people struggling with addiction or know someone who had a drug problem. They can reach out to their medical providers as well as a free national hotline: 800-662-HELP.