Florida and the Heroin Epidemic

florida heroin epidemic

In the early 2000s, Florida was known as the ‘pill mill’ capital of the country. Obtaining a prescription for a high-potency narcotic painkiller was about as simple as crossing the street, and innumerable men and women of all social backgrounds and demographics fell victim to the deadly national trend. In early 2010, the state began cracking down on illegitimate clinics. By 2013, the rates of prescription opioid addiction and overdose had begun to steadily decline. Unfortunately, while the state was busy cutting down internal supply, the availability of and funding for adequate treatment was also being dramatically reduced.

The Florida Heroin Epidemic

Essentially, Florida was focusing on cutting down the supply – when the true focus should have been on minimizing the demand. “Not addressing the demand side of the problem has contributed to the continuing of the epidemic,” notes epidemiologist Jim Hall of Nova Southeastern University. Because, as those of us who have first-hand experience in the realm of addiction know, once a severe dependence has developed, there are few things that will come between an addict and his or her fix. No more prescription painkillers? Heroin will do. The only true remedy is to treat addiction – and the only way to effectively do so is by making legitimate, professional treatment more widely available.

Heroin and Fentanyl

Once the supply of prescription painkillers was reduced, those who had become heavily physically and psychologically dependent on opioid narcotics merely found a more readily accessible and affordable alternative – heroin. A significant increase in heroin-related deaths was reported by Florida Law Enforcements agents between 2014 and 2015, and rates have only continued to climb. One of the biggest heroin-related issues in Florida is the prevalence of fentanyl – an opiate 100 times more potent than morphine which is being incorporated into heroin by low-level dealers.

Mixing heroin and fentanyl increases the potency of both drugs, and snorting, smoking, or injecting this lethal concoction produces an intensely powerful high. Most individuals who use fentanyl-laced heroin are completely unaware that they are doing so, until it is too late. Because both fentanyl and heroin produce powerful depressant effects, users will typically feel extreme drowsiness, nausea, sedation, and confusion. In some cases, users will experience respiratory depression, unconsciousness, and eventual death. In response to increasing rates of overdose-related death linked directly to fentanyl-laced heroin, many Florida first responders now carry naloxone (also known as Narcan) – a fast-acting opioid blocker, used to resuscitate those experiencing a potentially fatal overdose.

Need for Treatment Becomes Increasingly Apparent

Several months ago, a congressional delegation hailing from the state of Florida gathered at Capitol Hill to address the escalating epidemic. They discussed potential ways to hinder the continuous progression of opiate addiction and overdose-related death, and explored the apparent need for more accessible and widespread treatment. Ted Deutch, a democratic representative from Southern Florida, suggested that expanding Medicaid to low-income individuals would greatly aid in the increased dispersion of mental health services and addiction treatment. Florida is currently one of only 19 states that has not yet adopted Medicaid expansion, and the state ranks 49th out of 50 for mental health service funding. Though many delegates have noted that under conservative leadership, this development is not likely to unfold.

Improved Awareness Will Prove Imperative

While escalating rates of heroin-related overdose fatality have been ravaging the nation as a whole, Florida has been especially devastated. A combination of fentanyl-laced heroin and inaccessible health care put those battling drug addiction into a pretty unfortunate spot. On the bright side, state government officials are beginning to take the necessary steps to increase awareness, take preventative action, and provide adequate healthcare to low-income individuals. There is still much work to be done, of course – and in the meantime, continuously improved awareness and widespread education will likely prove imperative. For more information on heroin addiction in Florida, or to find an accessible Florida drug rehab, please feel free to contact us today.