Can addiction be treated? Yes, but it’s not simple.
Florida is an epicenter of drug use, both in urban and rural areas. An entry point for drug cartels into the United States, drugs of all kinds are in heavy abuse across the state, and thousands of Floridians lose their lives as a direct consequence of drug use every year.
The Florida Drug Control Update released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) keeps close track of the ups and downs of drug use in Florida with the goal of helping to reduce and even eradicate the problem. They report that:
- More than 8 percent of the Florida population report using drugs of any kind in the last month.
- The rate of death caused by drug use and abuse in Florida is higher than the national average.
- The number one cause of drug abuse, addiction, and death in Florida is use of opioid drugs, primarily due to the introduction of fentanyl, a highly potent opioid that has been found in every type of drug sold on the street.
- Methamphetamine is an increasing problem in Florida due to the flooding of the market with highly potent, inexpensive meth from Mexico.
The good news is that governing agencies and the medical community are well aware of the problem. And the public is becoming increasingly aware.
The bad news is that despite their efforts, addiction is a powerful disease, and drug cartels are continually pumping drugs into the Florida economy. This makes it necessary for people who struggle with drug use and their families to reach out for treatment and stick with it until they are stable in sobriety.
The Florida Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (FL-ESOOS) Program reports that more than 4,600 people died of a drug overdose in Florida in 2016, an increase of 67 percent over 2015.
Similarly, the Drug Policy Advisory Council (DPAC) 2016 Annual Report found that overdose deaths in Florida have increased 137 percent since 2000, and the rate of deaths caused by opioid drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers has increased 200 percent in that time. They point to fentanyl and heroin-related drug use as being responsible for this spike.
Fentanyl is synthetic opioid used to treat intense pain. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the drug is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It takes only a microscopically tiny dose to trigger an overdose.
Two laws were passed in Florida in the last 10 years to combat the problem — one to take down illegal “pill mills” infamous for prescribing addictive painkillers nonmedically and another to create the prescription drug monitoring program or Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation (E-FORCSE) to monitor those doctors and patients who were illegally diverting prescription drugs to the black market. Still, the opioid addiction problem has continued to grow. Though the abuse of prescription drugs was positively impacted by these laws and abuse rates are lower than before the laws were implemented, rates of heroin abuse and addiction have skyrocketed at the same time that prescription drug abuse rates decreased.
In 2017, the Florida’s governor signed an executive order declaring a statewide public health emergency due to the opioid epidemic. This action allowed the state to more quickly avail itself of federal resources to combat the problem, namely from the Health and Human Services’ Opioid State Targeted Response Grant.
Around the same time, the Florida legislature passed a new law that required the tracking of overdoses caused by substance use and abuse as well as reporting of those deaths by hospitals and law enforcement agencies to the Department of Health. All individuals who share that information are protected in House Bill 249.
Unfortunately, despite these proactive efforts, there is about a one-year lag between when drug use and overdose information is received and when it can be used to design new protocols and responses. This means that it is difficult for these large agencies to effectively combat the problem of addiction in Florida, leaving the heavy lifting to smaller nonprofit agencies on the ground and to families of people living in addiction.
According to the Florida Drug Control Update out of ONDCP, the rate of meth lab seizures leaped from 185 busts in 2007 to 327 in 2012, a 77 percent increase. Unlike other drugs commonly abused in Florida, this increase is caused by the rise of a new method of methamphetamine production called “one pot” labs or mobile labs.
With the bulk purchase of pseudoephedrine, a drug commonly used to treat cold symptoms and the key ingredient in meth, plus the ease with which drug dealers can quickly create the drug and take down the lab, more and more people are opting to manufacture meth on their own rather than deal with drug cartels.
The largest production of meth used in Florida, however, is done in Mexico. Drug cartels produce a very pure, cheap version of meth that is sought after by those in the club and party scene in Florida. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of deaths due to crystal meth overdose in Florida doubled.
Despite the fact that crystal meth detox is rarely characterized by intense physical withdrawal symptoms after the first few days, it can be very difficult to stop using. Those who don’t die often end up in prison due to use and sales of the drug. In rural Franklin County, for example, it is estimated that about 80 percent of the prison population is incarcerated due to crystal meth.
Many people experience relapse after months of sobriety because the cravings pervade for so long after cessation of use. It is a tough addiction to walk away from, and for that reason, it is important that people in recovery stay plugged into a solid network of support in the years following meth detox and addiction treatment.
The Path Forward
Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council in Florida, comprised of members that include the Department of Health’s Surgeon General and Secretary, members of the Florida Supreme Court, and members of the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate all come together regularly to assess the state of drug use and addiction in Florida and create a plan based on current issues.
In 2018, their priorities for lowering rates of addiction and death in Florida due to drugs in 2019 included:
- Cutting down on the supply of drugs into Florida and otherwise available for use.
- Increasing treatment efforts and awareness in order to reduce demand.
- Reducing the negative impact on individuals, families, and communities caused by drug use and abuse.
- Improving data collection with the goal of further honing future plans to reduce the number of crises caused by addiction in Florida.
With specific steps in place to do all of the above, the hope is that we will see a downward shift in rates of addiction and overdose deaths in Florida in the coming years, especially as new data is brought in, analyzed, and applied to protocols. Because trends in drug use change swiftly and vary considerably based on location across the state, efforts have to continually change as well.
Unfortunately, for families and individuals in Florida currently living with an addiction to meth, heroin, prescription drugs, and other substances, there is no time to wait for government funding and resources to catch up. Every day spent without treatment courts disaster.