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Million-dollar drug bust exposes overdose problem in Jacksonville and the toll it takes on families

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More than 430 people died from a drug overdose in Duval County last year. That’s more than three times the amount of murders in 2023.

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On Wednesday, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announced a five-month-long drug investigation led to the arrests of 14 people. Police targeted the largest suppliers of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

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Over a million dollars worth of drugs were taken off the street from the five alleged drug rings broken. They spanned from Florida to Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Action News Jax spoke to a woman who lost her husband to a fentanyl overdose six years ago. She said this problem is so pervasive that the drug bust today is just the tip of the iceberg.

“To see him go through the progression of addiction was heartbreaking because the things he loved to do, he no longer loved.”

Related Story: ‘Operation Players Club:’ 14 arrested, estimated $1M in drugs seized, Jacksonville sheriff says

Colin Goodell was just 38 years old when he died of a fentanyl overdose in 2017.

He loved to fish, care for others, and take good care of the things he owned.

“Loving, he had a huge heart and just loved to make people laugh,” Goodell’s wife, Cheryl Canzanella said. “He had clothes on his back, food in his stomach, roof over his head, and he still didn’t make it.”

She said it started as a prescription for pain, something he battled for years and the struggle of getting clean wasn’t easy.

“It was a constant you’re on the right track, back to the wrong time, couple steps forward, couple steps back... it was very discouraging,” Canzanella said.

Read: Jacksonville sheriff announces arrest of man connected to a narcotics overdose death

On Wednesday, Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said there were 433 overdose deaths in Duval County and 470 overdose deaths in 2022.

A recent five-month-long investigation led to the arrests of 14 major traffickers and more than roughly $1 million in drugs were taken off the streets. This included 120 pounds of meth and over 2 kilos of fentanyl.

“I don’t think this is over anytime soon,” Canzanella said. “I think the floodgates have been open. I think we’re going to see a lot more of this.”

Read: Jacksonville Beach SWAT helps in drug trafficking arrest that began with woman’s death

Susan Pitman, with Drug Free Duval, which focuses on prevention, treatment, and recovery, said there’s been an overwhelming, extreme rise in overdose deaths since she founded the organization in 2008.

“The resources we need are to become a passionate community to really create more opportunity for people to get help and seek help,” Pitman said.

For Canzanella, she’s been focusing on helping others by sharing her story -- and by finding ways to deal with the ripple effect that comes with losing a loved one.

“These are not bad people doing bad things, they’re sick people just trying to get well, she said. “Once we realize they may do bad things, it doesn’t make up for doing bad things, but, if we have more empathy towards people to give them more support and help their needs.”

Read: Jacksonville baby dies of fentanyl poisoning, second suspect in custody

Pitman with Drug Free Duval said she believes law enforcement is doing it right when it comes to taking down suppliers. They have a lot of resources they use to help the community.

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The sheriff’s office said gun violence is directly connected to narcotic distribution. If you’re struggling with addiction reach out to social service providers for addiction rehab.

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