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The Intersection of Human Trafficking and the Opioid Crisis

By January 25, 2019News

On January 11, 2019, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, The John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy in partnership with A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center (AVITWEC) offered a specialized training entitled Breaking Chains and Breaking Cycles:  The Intersection of Human Trafficking and the Opioid Crisis in Ft. Myers, Florida.  Over 100 participants – consisting of government officials, healthcare providers, law enforcement, attorneys, nongovernment organizations, and the community at large – came together to fight modern day slavery.

Professor Dr. Roza Pati, Founder and Director of the Academy, wrote to participants that the training was especially relevant given that the national opioid crisis claims 15 lives in Florida on a daily basis,and Florida ranks third in the nation for reported incidents of human trafficking.2

The full-day training consisted of four distinct sessions tailored to issues facing southwest Florida.  The Academy’s managing director, Liza Smoker, gave opening remarks followed by an invocation by Pastor Marjorie Ford and district welcome from Ft. Myers Council Member Johnny W. Streets, Jr.  Ramona Miller, Founder of AVITWEC, and Kyla Massey, survivor of human trafficking, set the stage by presenting the Emmy-award winning documentary, Trapped, in which they both were featured.

Academy Graduate Fellows, Tessa Juste and Marina Rakopyan, candidates in the J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights at St. Thomas Law School, presented the first session on Vulnerabilities & Human Trafficking.  This was followed by Human Trafficking: Law Enforcement Perspectives by Corporal Alan Wilkett from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.  Afternoon sessions included The Relationship between Opioids & Trafficking by Professor Dr. Kanathy Haney, PhD, CHES, CPH, of Palm Beach State College, and A Trauma-Informed Approach to Trafficked Individuals, by Attorney Brenda Mezick, former Chief of Program Development & Public Policy for the Human Trafficking Unit in the Office of the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County.

By the end of the day, many participants had already begun to forge partnerships to end human trafficking in southwest Florida.  The Academy was thrilled to help empower this enthusiastic community to end modern day slavery.


1 Press Release, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Attorney General Bondi Sues Major Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors (May 15, 2018), www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/pv/8AB6F9CB5A2F6C628525828E00630815.
National Human Trafficking Hotline, Hotline Statistics (2018), https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states.