Manatee County Tackles Drug Epidemic

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Drug use and drug addiction continues to be a big problem on the Suncoast, especially in Manatee County. Drug Free Manatee, a county run organization, has about a dozen groups under its umbrella in the fight against the drug epidemic.

Denise Gattuso has been addiction-free now since she was 24 years old; that's nearly 38 years ago. The Bradenton mother of four was addicted to alcohol and dabbled in other drugs. She says if she can do it, anybody can.

"It is awesome. I never thought at 24 years old I would be who I am today and what I've accomplished," said Gattuso.

Gattuso credits many female mentors and her spirituality in helping her overcome addiction. The now-licensed mental health counselor is getting ready to open a facility on April 1st called the Prodigal Daughter's Recovery Home, which helps women to tackle addiction.

"We want to mentor them from soup to nuts," said Gattuso. "We want to get them into education, get them educated, so they can get out there, we want to give them housing.

"That's one solution to the problem of addiction. Drug Free Manatee has many different groups working together on other solutions against the drug crisis and treating addiction. Currently there are more than a thousand people receiving medication-assisted treatment through methadone clinics in Manatee and Sarasota Counties.

"We started to look at prevention education, intervention, and access to treatment and harm reduction, public policy, public awareness campaigns," said Sharon Kramer, Executive Director of Drug Free Manatee.

Denise Gattuso tells us despite this proactive approach in fighting this drug epidemic in Manatee County, there's still an exhausting battle ahead.

"We're on the road, but we have to do much more," said Gattuso.

"There are many resources in the county to help them," said Kramer, "so they're not alone, their life does matter.

"For anyone who is having a problem with drug addiction, you can log onto drugfreemanatee.org.

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