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Solutions sought to stem opioid overdoses

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More than a dozen state lawmakers joined law-enforcement officers and health experts Wednesday at the Capitol to discuss a growing crisis of people dying from opioid overdoses.

Opioids, such as heroin, lead to nearly 10 deaths a day in the state, killing someone every two and a half hours, according to the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The problem is spurring calls for expanded availability of treatment for people addicted to drugs and increased training of law-enforcement officers and first responders in overdose prevention.

Additionally, increased penalties are being sought against opioid traffickers.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said it is impossible to tell what is in drugs that are not ordered through legitimate pharmacies, adding that current opioids are more toxic than drugs in the past.

"They are so strong that kids and teens and adults are dying left and right," Bondi said. "You have no idea, if you buy anything on the street, what is really in it. That is what everyone needs to know. It can kill you instantly."

The coalition of groups that gathered for a news conference Wednesday at the Capitol also called for expanded use of Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, set up several years ago by lawmakers to track prescriptions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use has more than doubled among adults ages 18 to 25 in the past decade, and 90 percent of the people who use opioids also abuse other drugs.

"The core of trying to make a real difference with this is to continue our efforts, and to do more in what we are doing now with prevention, education, and treatment," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. "That is how we are going to break this cycle."