Every 2 hours, someone in Florida is dying of an opioid overdose.

Sounds unbelievable? The Florida Department of Health reported 4,294 people died in 2019 as the result of an opioid overdose. That’s 4,294 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, cousins, friends that died needlessly.

Truth be told, the number is much higher in the United States collectively, but Florida is the second-highest in the nation, followed only by California.

Prevention and monitoring laws put in place several years ago proved to help decrease overdose rates. Sadly, the pandemic’s effect on our lives and mental health has exacerbated the issue once more. Now more than ever, the need for effective opioid treatment programs in Florida is crucial.

Why are Opioids so Prevalent in Florida?

As a result of population and location, Florida has the second-highest number of opioid deaths in the country. With a population of 21.48 million people, it’s only logical that Florida would have a high number of drug use per capita relative to most other states.

However, Florida’s unique geographical position contributes significantly to that number. Surrounded by coastlines and an abundance of international airports and shipping ports, Florida is a prime entryway for illegal drugs. Being the first point of contact also means that Florida has access to purer drugs, contributing further to the problem.

The ease of access and the sheer number of people make Florida a hotspot for drug use.

From Prescription Pain Relievers to Synthetic Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that affect the brain, blocking pain signals and creating feelings of relaxation and euphoria. People can form tolerance, dependence, and addiction to opioids. The most commonly used opioids are:

  • Prescription “painkillers” such as OxyContin and Vicodin
  • Synthetically produced Fentanyl
  • Heroin, an illegal drug

The opioid epidemic has seen three waves. Starting in 1999 and spanning over a decade, prescription opioids led to an abundance of pill mills, severe over-prescribing, misuse and abuse. Opioid use and overdose were rampant, snaking their way into communities, families and lives. Florida quickly became the epicenter of the opioid overdose epidemic.

In the mid-2000s Florida implemented two laws to help mitigate the crisis. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and the Pill Mill Law on Opioid Prescribing and Utilization helped reduce the spread of prescription opioids. Unfortunately, this led many individuals to seek an alternative. Enter heroin.

Despite having been around for decades, heroin was now being sought out by more individuals, particularly young, white suburbanites. As such, the opioid epidemic experienced its second wave from 2010 to 2013. Though prescription opioid deaths in Florida only fluctuated slightly, heroin-specific deaths spiked significantly.

Then came the influx of synthetic opioids. From that point, the overdose rate skyrocketed. In the two short years between 2014 and 2016 alone, opioid deaths in Florida more than doubled.

Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl and Carfentanil are created and distributed illegally. They are more potent, more profitable, and more deadly, with only a fraction of the amount needed to have the same effects. Fentanyl is commonly used to lace Marijuana or cut other drugs such as Percocet, OxyContin, Xanax, and Cocaine.

Oftentimes, individuals who use cocaine or amphetamines don’t know their drug has been cut with Fentanyl. Not only are their bodies not used to opioids, but they are unknowingly taking too much and the result is often an overdose.

Despite the rate of overdose having dipped in 2018, opioid deaths in Florida have quadrupled since 1999. 

A Pandemic’s Effect on an Epidemic

The pandemic of 2020 will likely be the start of the next wave in the opioid crisis.

People were forced to isolate, lost jobs, experienced the death of friends or family, and faced so much uncertainty over the future. Meanwhile, twelve-step programs were canceled and therapy sessions were restricted to zoom calls. The lack of connection, fear of the unknown, and even just the boredom of being holed up at home for so long created an atmosphere ripe for substance abuse.

Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an almost 31% increase in drug overdose deaths from January 2020 to January 2021. In Florida, there were 7,656 overdose deaths which equate to an almost 36% increase. And yet, these numbers don’t paint the entire picture. The data is still being compiled, making the numbers are underreported.

The Need for Effective Programs

The worst part of opioid deaths is they are preventable!

Overdose reversing drugs like Naloxone work immediately to stop the effects of an overdose and prevent death.

Suboxone and methadone are just two of several drugs that are effective in treating opioid addiction.

Harm reduction programs such as the ones listed below reduce the chances of overdose and abuse:

  • Syringe exchange programs
  • Fentanyl testing strip distribution
  • E-FORCSE, Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

Unfortunately, many of these prevention and treatment strategies are not being advertised and used effectively. This tragic reality emphasizes why we need more effective opioid treatment programs in Florida.

MAT and Opioid Treatment Programs in Florida

The continued crisis coupled with the skyrocketing death rates of 2020 indicates a dire need for the implementation of opioid treatment programs that can actually stop addiction. Facilitating safer habits and emergency recourse for overdose is absolutely beneficial and necessary, but what we need more of is better rehab treatment.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a grossly underutilized form of opioid treatment in Florida and across the United States.

According to studies, MAT has been proven to:

  • Decrease opioid use and consequently, overdose deaths, criminal activity and the spread of infectious disease
  • Increase social functioning and retention in treatment
  • Improve outcomes for opioid-dependent pregnant women and their babies

Methadone, buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone are three FDA-approved medications currently being used to treat opioid use disorder. These medications do not substitute one addiction for another as they do not create a high. Instead, they work by targeting the mu-opioid receptor in the brain, reducing cravings and severing connections the brain has established between opioid use and situational and emotional triggers.

And yet, “less than 1/2 of privately-funded substance use disorder treatment programs offer MAT and only 1/3 of patients with opioid dependence at these programs actually receive it.” Most states don’t have the resources and capacity to provide MAT.

Rather than simply assisting with detox and glossing over subpar therapy, rehab programs in Florida need to do better. A holistic approach to drug rehab that couples medication with therapies that address the whole person is the optimal way to tackle the opioid epidemic.

At St. Johns Recovery Place, we believe and implement this exact strategy to provide our clients the best chance for recovery and long-term sobriety. This ideal is at the core of our approach to treatment. To find out more, call our office at 833-397-3422 today.

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