Law enforcement battling opioid abuse from the front lines

Law enforcement battling opioid abuse from the front lines

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids.

Usually in the form of prescription pills, opioids are a synthetic form of opiates; usually associated with morphine or heroin.

America has declared war on an epidemic that is destroying and taking lives. Mississippi, like all other states, is trying to stop the problem in its tracks.

"It's definitely a crisis. Other drugs have impacted us over the years and this one is looking like it could be worse," according to Drug Enforcement Administration agent Derryle Smith.

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is on the front lines.

"In the last four years, 85 percent of all drug overdoses in Mississippi were opioid-related," said MBN Director John Dowdy.

Local police departments are combating what they see as a lethal crisis. In Mississippi, there were 481 reported deaths related to opioid abuse between 2013 and 2016.

The state ranks fourth in prescribing opioids per capita. According to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, there were 201 million prescription pain killers dispensed 2016.

"To break it down, based on the population of the state, that's approximately 70 dosage units of a prescription painkiller for every living person in Mississippi. That's one pill bottle with 70 pills in it for every person in Mississippi. That's a problem," said Dowdy.

Gov. Phil Bryant unveiled an opioid and heroin task force with a $3.5 million federal grant to fight the epidemic.

While most attention is focused on the over prescription of pain pills, heroin is making a comeback. Metro police departments are arresting street dealers supplying heroin to meet the demand for the dangerous drug.

"The influx of heroin is alarming. It's quickly rising and we're seeing it out there," according to Gulfport Police Chief Papania.

Charles Roberts had a powerful addiction to heroin as a young man living in Colorado.

"Rock bottom for me was living under a bridge in Denver, Colorado. I became homeless," said Roberts.

Eventually, Roberts beat the addiction. He's wrapping up his master's degree at Southern Miss and will be a social worker helping addicts. He serves as an intern at Harrison County Drug Court.

He's committed to getting others to kick the habit.

"I have dedicated my life to help the sick and suffering," Roberts said.

While thousands of Mississippians are fighting personal demons because of an addiction to opioids, public officials in the nation and state see light at the end of the tunnel through proactive policies.

"I feel like the effort by MBN along with our partnerships with sheriffs and police departments, as well as our partnership with the DEA, we're able to get a lot of these drugs off the street," said MBN Director Dowdy.

One of the deadliest drugs getting attention right is fentanyl. It's a synthetic form of heroin, laced with chemicals. A federal indictment was handed down recently involving a fentanyl ring out of China. That investigation began with an arrest in Gulfport.

A $3.5 million federal grant was given to Mississippi to fight the epidemic.

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