“It’s alarming. There’s no other way to put it” : Police officials track drug dealers closely, treatment centers see an inordinate increase in patients asking for help

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 5:32 PM EDT
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - The war on drugs has raged since the 1970′s and while it has changed over the years it isn’t slowing down.

It’s an epidemic that runs deep and has rooted itself in north central Florida.

Even I had no idea just how rampant the opioid epidemic is in our community.

“This is our busiest year we ever had, and we’ve seen an increase in every substance. There’s nothing that we haven’t seen an increase of,” Medical Director of UF Health’s Recovery Center, Scott Teitelbaum said.

Doctors at UF Health’s Recovery Center said isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated the problem.

“Substance use disorders, addiction is a disease of isolation, and we were being that people are a lot more isolated and then you throw in financial stressors, losing jobs and worrying about money. You throw in medical stressors with loved ones being sick and dying,” Teitelbaum said.

And these stressors can happen to anybody.

“Addiction does not care about how smart you are, how much money you make, how successful you are, race, color, sex, it just doesn’t care,” he added.

But treatment centers aren’t the only places feeling the strain.

On April 7, Ocala police with the Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team (UDEST), gave an update on their progress against the war on drugs.

At that time, 83 people had been arrested on drug related charges, and they seized a variety of different drugs.

Related story: Law enforcement arrests 83 people in Marion County involved in drug trafficking

Since then they’ve arrested 72 more people.

“We know that as long as the demand is there in our community, there will always be a supply,” Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken said.

Chief Balken and I went over some of the numbers from UDEST from their first quarter of 2021, and the data it’s overwhelming.

Detectives have seen an increase in the amount of drugs that they’re able to confiscate in almost every category.

Probably the most shocking, is the increase in the amount of fentanyl detectives have seized compared to this time last year.

“When you see a case agent that takes a couple kilos of fentanyl off the street, that’s a big deal. I mean when you say hey, yeah you just recovered enough fentanyl to kill everybody in Ocala, Marion County twice, that’s a big deal,” Balken said.

And methamphetamine, also known as ICE, is a close second.

“These are telling reports. These aren’t antidotal. these are factual reports that show day to day what we’re dealing with, what our police officers, our detectives and our drug agents are dealing with. This is three months worth of data, it’s alarming. There’s no other way to put it,” Balken added.

But there could be a solution to getting these drug dealers to stop what they’re doing.

When our series continues next Thursday, we’ll hear from State Attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, Bill Gladson on the effort to charge drug dealers with murder.

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