Gov. Rick Scott recently announced new initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic in Florida, including $50 million in funding for treatment, counseling and services.

But one group in the Bay area is already working hard to research ways to fight the epidemic and educate others about treatment and prevention. 

For Adam Abaldawi the opioid epidemic hits close to home. 

His 44-year-old uncle died from opioid related causes last year. His uncle was involved in a car accident that crushed his back and Adam says he soon began to rely on opioids to cope with the constant pain. 

"Had this accident in his life never happened and had he never gotten into these drugs to taper off his pain, I really think that he would probably still be here with us today," said Abaldawi, with Tampa's Opioid Resesearch Network. 

So when one of his friends from the University of South Florida mentioned an opportunity to research the opioid epidemic and develop initatives to combat it, Abaldawi says he was eager to get involved. 

"It's through him that really I'm inspired today to try to make a change in any way I can," Abaldawi said. 

The Opioid Research Network began its work in Hernando County.  

But it's an issue that affects the entire state. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, opioid deaths in Florida increased by nearly 23% from 2014 to 2015, with about 3200 people passing away from that drug use in 2015.

"If I can save a couple people - one or two people even, I'd be happy," he said. 

Abaldawi's team has already come up with some initiatives they think can help decrease overdose related deaths including equipping all first responders with Narcan. And educational programs about prescribing opioids for medical professionals and opioid addiction for middle and high school students. 

While the initiatives are still in the early stages, Abaldawi's and his team said they are dedicated to continuing to combat the epidemic and aim to change the way people see addicts. 

"Addiction is a disease and it should be treated the same as any other disease that we treat today in hospitals," he said. "I truly believe in my heart that if we have more empathy in society with addiction in general we can start to solve some of the issues that we face today."