By Kyle LoJacono
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco last month asked for help from the county commissioners in the fight against the prescription drug abuse epidemic, a request that was personal for two board members.
Commissioners Pat Mulieri and Henry Wilson have seen the worst possible outcomes caused by such abuse. Mulieri’s brother died 16 years ago to a drug overdose.
“He was a respected law enforcement officer, but he died of an overdose,” said Mulieri almost overcome with emotion. “He was a drinker and he was taking Valium at the same time. A doctor kept writing him prescriptions for 100 pills at a time.”
Wilson lost a teenage nephew to the same addiction just days after hearing Nocco’s request. He said he knew prescription drug abuse was a big problem, but the loss struck the first-term commissioner.
“It just hit home for me,” Wilson said.
The problem has also hit home for hundreds of families in Pasco during the last year. The Florida Medical Examiners Commission reports that the Pasco/Pinellas area led the state in deaths caused by prescription drugs last year.
The two counties combined for 750 deaths related to prescription drug abuse, 28 percent of the total fatalities in Florida. The examiners commission does not separate the deaths between the two Tampa Bay area counties.
“It’s in our own back yards, it’s in our schools, it’s in the neighborhoods where we least expect it to be,” said Commissioner Ted Schrader.
Mulieri and Wilson, along with the other three commssioners, unanamiously approved Noccos’ request for a $1.6 million increase in the Pasco Sheriff’s Office budget, up to $83.3 million, for the new fiscal year to hire 23 new empoyees. It took just 30 minutes of deliberating to come to the agreement.
The new staffers will incude 10 detectives and two sergeants to create two new squads to battle drug abuse, eight nurses for the Land O’ Lake Detention Center to help with inmate drug issues and three to form a new intelligence-led policing unit.
Intelligence-led policing is a new concept introduced by Nocco, where the team identifies places where crimes are more likely to happen to better allocate the office’s resources.
The only person who advised against the increase was county budget director Michael Nurrenbrock, who questioned the long-term fiscal feasibility of adding 23 new employees to Pasco’s payroll.
Nurrenbrock said the only reason the county can afford to hire the new workers this year is the state manadated all government workers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward their own pension plans, saving Pasco $7.7 million.
“The reason you have this flexibility is because those pension rates have changed, and there’s no guarantee of what will happen next year,” Nurrenbrock said. He added the county’s revenue problems are not getting better as property values continue to drop.
Nocco assured Nurrenbrock he would look into the finacial future of the sheriff’s office at the start of the new year when he creates its five-year strategic plan.
Pasco’s new $1.1 billion budget goes into effect
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