More fentanyl-related deaths reported in Central Florida

9 Investigates discovered an increase in overdose deaths in Orange and Osceola counties in 2018.

Just-compiled numbers show drug-related deaths were up by 20 percent from 2017, but investigative reporter Karla Ray found out that’s not due to heroin.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany says most people who die of an overdose in our community have multiple drugs in their system, but more than half last year were killed after ingesting fentanyl or a fentanyl-analog.

The Medical Examiner’s Office, also known as the morgue, could be considered the great equalizer in Central Florida’s opioid epidemic.

“Every day we're in there, it's one, two, three, four potential overdoses,” Dr. Joshua Stephany said.

Every suspected overdose death in Orange and Osceola counties is investigated by Dr. Stephany and his staff of seven medical examiners.

“We do see the number of people coming in, anywhere from their teens, 20s, 30s -- with overdoses that could've been preventable,” Dr. Stephany said.

Dr. Stephany has been ringing the alarm about an influx of fentanyl in Central Florida’s drug supply for the last four years.  In that time, despite heightened awareness that a single dose of the drug can be deadly, fentanyl-related deaths have quadrupled in the counties he oversees.

Last year saw a total of 433 accidental drug deaths in Orange and Osceola counties, and 265 of those involved fentanyl or a fentanyl analog.  That’s up from 204 fentanyl-related deaths in 2017, 81 in 2016 and 67 in 2015.

“I'm not sure how to get those numbers down, unfortunately,” Dr. Stephany said.  “I'm sort of the end of it.”

Dr. Stephany and his staff know the stories behind the numbers, because they inform family members of the results of autopsies every single day.  And he doesn’t expect overdose numbers to go down anytime soon.

“Hearing the personal stories of just how it affects mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters -- and they know they've been trying to get help for years, and they just can't,” Dr. Stephany said.

Cocaine-related deaths are up in Central Florida as well as 223 deaths involved cocaine or a combination of cocaine and other drugs.  Dr. Stephany says some deaths appear to involve the mixing of cocaine and fentanyl for a stronger high.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray,

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.