When outsiders consider West Palm Beach, they think of tourist activities. They plan to visit the Norton Museum of Art, or they hope to stroll down Clematis Street on a gorgeous summer night.
Since the economy of West Palm Beach relies so heavily on tourism dollars, learning more about activities is a snap. Learning about addiction rates and recovery is a different story.
Few tourism-based cities want to tout their addiction statistics, and they may not want to release data about centers that serve the community. After all, who wants to visit a city filled with substance abuse and despair?
But just because the data is hidden doesn’t mean it isn’t available.
West Palm Beach has an addiction issue, and it’s growing worse each year. Thankfully, the city is aware of the problem and developing programs that can help.
Opioids in West Palm Beach
Like most cities in the United States, West Palm Beach is struggling with a prescription painkiller problem.
Prescription painkillers are designed to help people overcome discomfort due to surgery, broken bones, cancer, and more. Most painkillers don’t address the source of the pain. Instead, they tinker with brain chemistry to make discomfort easier to ignore.
When you take a painkiller, your brain releases the pleasure signal dopamine, so you feel calm and giddy. It’s this dopamine surge that can prompt people to abuse painkillers. When they do, they can develop addictions.
According to the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition, a rising number of deaths and admissions to treatment programs can be attributed to painkiller use and abuse.
When an addiction deepens, so does the need for drugs. There is a need for stronger or bigger doses to get the same high.
In West Palm Beach, dealers are responding by adding the painkiller fentanyl to their drug supplies. They may sell it alone, or they may add it to heroin to cut costs.
Experts say a kilogram of heroin sells for up to $80,000, but a kilogram of fentanyl costs only $5,000 for a dealer to buy. By swapping fentanyl for heroin, dealers can make a lot of money. And users pay the price. Fentanyl is incredibly strong, and a dose can overwhelm the body and cause death.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that deaths caused by fentanyl increased 97 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015. And that same report has another worrying statistic.
Benzodiazepines in West Palm Beach
In 2016, 1,390 deaths were attributed to fentanyl. But 1,769 were attributed to benzodiazepines.
Benzos work on the body in a method similar to opioids. They cause:
- Euphoria. People may feel happy, giddy, and accepted.
- Relaxation. Tensions of the day can melt away.
- Sedation. Breathing and heart rates slow.
- Disorientation. In the midst of a high, people may be unaware of their surroundings.
People may not be accustomed to worrying about benzodiazepine abuse. When we think about prescriptions that cause problems, we focus on opioids.
But it’s clear that people in West Palm Beach are leaning on this secondary drug for a high. And many of them are losing their lives in the process.
How Do People Get and Use Drugs?
Florida’s location leads to drug importation susceptibility. And the euphoria of drugs leads people to using them in the most dangerous way possible.
As a port community, West Palm Beach takes in shipments every day. It’s easy enough for dealers to slip drugs into the cargo they bring into the country. Once the drugs arrive, they can flow into the streets for eager users to buy.
West Palm Beach is also known as a haven for drug treatment centers, and that means the community has plenty of people who are vulnerable to relapse. Dealers know that, and they may set up shop on street corners to make it easy for people to buy the drugs they want. Dealers don’t care about the lives they harm. They just want to make money.
Since fentanyl is so popular in West Palm Beach, and most people who use it think they are buying heroin, it’s not surprising that needles are the most common method of use.
The Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition reports that 90 percent of heroin users choose needles to inject their drugs. This is an incredibly dangerous practice that can lead to:
- Infections. It’s hard for drug users to get clean needles. They may reuse their own, or they may borrow needles from others. Both options can lead to contamination.
- Disease. Sharing needles ups the risk of blood-borne disease risk. Rates of HIV, hepatitis, and other serious conditions go up when a community leans on needles.
- Overdose. It can be difficult for users to get an accurate measurement of the dose they’re about to inject. That can lead to sudden death.
- Public health problems. Needles littering the street can infect passersby, even if those people never use drugs.
The Community Steps Up
Drug abuse is a serious issue, and the community is reacting appropriately. It’s hoped that these initiatives will help to reduce the amount of drugs coming into West Palm Beach, and that could lead to lower addiction rates in the future.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has a program designed to:
- Educate. Officers hope to educate the public about risks involved with drug abuse.
- Investigate. Both drug dealing and drug using cases are subject to enhanced scrutiny.
- Research. They hope to spot trends about drug abuse, so they’ll know where to focus their work.
- Support. They will work as an agency of support for families touched by addiction.
Every family in the community that works to address addiction is also part of the solution. There are several agencies in the area that can help.
Nonprofit or Public Solutions
In many states, people with addictions can turn to state agencies for help. Florida is different. The state has no such supervisory program. That means people with addictions need to do their own research and contact a treatment center personally.
Here are a few places that could help West Palm Beach residents:
- West Palm Beach VA Medical Center: Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces can tap into their benefits to get help with an addiction. This center offers both an outpatient program and an intensive outpatient program for veterans. People can refer themselves to care, or they can visit a VA doctor and ask for a referral.
This is a covered benefit provided to you as part of your payment for serving your country. If you have an addiction, this is an excellent place to begin your healing journey.
- 2-1-1 Helpline: Addictions can leave you feeling desperate, isolated, and depressed. This crisis helpline is staffed by professionals who can talk you through a crisis, and they can connect you with programs that can help. One of the programs offered through this service is called “health advocacy,” and that could allow you to recover from the physical damage your abuse caused. Help is available around the clock, and there is no fee for service.
- Alcoholics Anonymous: Group meetings connect you with others who are struggling with substance abuse. This isn’t considered treatment, as your care is not provided by a mental health professional. But attending meetings can help you to stay motivated to adhere to your treatment program. There is no charge to go to a meeting, and there are many held in West Palm Beach every day.
- South County Mental Health Center: This nonprofit organization offers mental health services to residents of Palm Beach County. The organization gets fees from contracts with the state and the county, meaning that it can provide care even to people who cannot pay for it. There are crisis services and residential services for adults. The group can also help you to find a job or a safe place to live.
- Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County, Inc.: This nonprofit organization has served families in the county since 1961. They offer counseling programs as well as a structured Substance Abuse Recovery program. Care is provided on an outpatient basis. It includes assessments, personalized recovery planning, support group work, individual therapy, group therapy, and more. You’ll need to contact them to find out about costs and enrollment.
If you’re dealing with an addiction, there are additional private programs that can put you on the road to recovery. You owe it to yourself to find out more about how you can get better.