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Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings speaks on heroin task force created to combat rising drug usage in Central Florida. Video by Bernard Wilchusky, Central Florida Future

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Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs announced Monday the creation of a heroin task force to combat rising drug usage in Central Florida.

The 22-member task force comprises officials from the county’s administration, education, medical and law enforcement establishments, and is scheduled to meet in six months’ time to develop a comprehensive plan to stem the significant rise in heroin-related deaths sweeping the nation.

“The newest cycle of heroin abuse is aimed squarely at our youth,” Jacobs said. “We know that the role of painkillers and illegal prescription drugs has fed the addiction epidemic, but with heroin, the numbers are growing with frightening speed. We’ve battled pill mills — together, we’ve battled them successfully, [and] together, we’re going to battle heroin.”

Orange County Sheriff and Task Force Co-Chair Jerry Demings said that, as of July 2015, his department had dealt 162 overdoses and 30 deaths related to heroin, compared to 57 overdoses and 27 deaths in 2013.

“We have now seen the tragedy of the heroin epidemic in [the northeast] come here to Central Florida, come here to Orlando and Orange County,” he said.

While the rate of heroin deaths in Orange County has increased by 80 percent since 2012, UCF spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said that UCF has been largely unaffected by the trend.

“Although there’s been a spike in heroin use in the area — especially among young people — it isn’t something UCF PD has seen a ton of,” she said.

Timeshare developer and reality-television personality David Siegel said he planned on meeting with UCF President John C. Hitt this month to discuss his petition to perform nationwide random drug tests on students from middle school to university levels. His daughter, Victoria Siegel, was found dead June 6 as a result of a prescription-pill overdose, according to autopsy reports.

“UCF is the first school I’m targeting for random drug [tests]. Right now, in our universities — and it’s probably a well-kept secret, because nobody seems to know about it — over 20 percent of our students are either using drugs or dealing drugs,” Siegel said.

The task force is joined by UCF representatives Maribeth Ehasz, vice president for Student Development and Enrollment Services; Dr. Michael Deichen, director for Student Health Services and Brett Meade, UCF PD deputy chief.

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Bernard Wilchusky is a Senior Staff Writer the Central Florida Future.

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