Panel Discusses Dangers Of Opioid Addiction


Russ Nekorchuk felt relieved taking his pain medications after his hip replacement.

Avoiding the excruciating pain was addicting. If it was not for his wife Darla, he would have become an opioid addict, he said this week at an opioid awareness panel event at the Celebration Methodist Church in Gainesville.

Nekorchuk, 69, underwent a full hip replacement in 2006 and fell victim to what could have develop into an Opioid addiction. Darla, 67, a retired nurse, saved him from becoming an addict.

Not every patient suffering from addiction counts with a guiding hand filled with patience and compassion, and as Darla Nekorchuk said, “help takes time.”

Tuesday’s Opioid Awareness Panel, held by the Health and Wellness team, shone a light on the opioid epidemic that is scattering its roots in Gainesville; it included advice on how to identify abuse, prevent it, or how to respond once it takes hold.

Among its speakers was Dr. Christopher Kirby, an addiction medicine specialist, led the panel, hoping to reach the hearts of its audience. Dr. Kirby explained what an addiction is and stressed it “is nearly impossible (without help) to come back from an addiction.” Addiction, he said, is a disease like any other that can manifest if patients and doctors alike aren’t careful and vigilant about medication intake.

Other panelists included Robin Moorman Li, Pharm D., Clinical Assoc. Professor at the University of Florida college of pharmacy, Dr. Joseph Cammilleri, Chair of Healthcare Training and Education Committee of the North Florida Opioid Heroin Task Force, and Dr. Jane Aldrich Medicinal Chemistry.

The fast-evolving opioid epidemic is branching out all over Florida, though its effects have been somewhat limited in Gainesville.

The 2017 Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Medical Examiners Commission of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, reported that in the first six months of 2017, there were 104,519 deaths in Florida. The results determined that drugs, including opioids, caused 6,110 of the deaths.

Unlike areas such as Miami, who from Jan. to June 2017 experienced 102 casualties due to morphine misuse or, West Palm Beach, 132, and Jacksonville, 87, Gainesville is not as affected. According to the report, Gainesville saw 11 casualties due to morphine abuse by patients between 26 and over 60 years old.

Although the opioid epidemic is relatively shallow in comparison to the critical epidemic other areas in Florida are experiencing, Alachua is no stranger to the issue. The county filed a complaint on February at the civil court circuit that alleges manufactures and individual doctors, spent millions of dollars falsely marketing opioid as non- addicting drugs.

“We need more treatments available. And if you feel comfortable, which I hope you do, you need to contact your legislatures and push the issue,” said Judge Phil Pena, of the Alachua Circuit Criminal Division, who was among the audience at the Opioid Awareness panel.

Judge Pena also encouraged the rest of the attendees to ask thorough questions when visiting their doctors, about the medications prescribed.

“You need to know what you are taking into your system.”

As a community, it is crucial to stay inform about drug abuse and be pro-active for the community to keep growing into a safe environment. Seek out help, volunteer, and stay informed.

Sheryl Heinicka, Chair of the Health and Wellness team at the Celebration Methodist Church, organized the Opioid Awareness Panel after taking notice of how this epidemic is rapidly affecting her community and the rest of Florida.

“We want to help reach out community members, to educate them on health and wellness, not only to members here but, to also be a mission for the people of the community.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services awarded Florida with $61.7 million to fight opioid addiction.

If you or a loved one suffer from substance abuse, you can visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration or contact the Opiate Hotline.

About Katherine Lugo

Katherine is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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