Three Big Reasons for Florida’s Heroin and Pill Epidemic
Rates of drug abuse in Florida have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years. Consequently, Florida is facing what many are calling an epidemic of rise in rates of drug abuse and overdose. According to state reports, the most commonly used drugs in Florida are heroin, prescription pain medications, and alcohol. Many believe tho, that the fuel to this epidemic has been prescription pill abuse, which in many cases can lead to heroin overdose and death. Part of the reason for the increase in heroin abuse can be traced to the overall increase in the abuse of prescription painkillers which has occurred nationwide over the past decade.
Florida actually played a crucial role in its development. A South Florida treatment center explains:
“The state of Florida had a crucial part in the nationwide painkiller epidemic since it was known for having many pain management clinics that liberally prescribed opiates and yet Florida lacked a statewide prescription management system that could monitor the controlled substances the state was prescribing. Painkiller addicts from all over the country were traveling to Florida to see several doctors over a period of a couple days before returning home with their duplicate opiate prescriptions that they could abuse and sell on the streets.”
These days, legislation has changed to make prescription painkillers and opiates less easily accessible. However, the Sunshine State is listed as the 11th hardest hit state in terms of painkiller abuse and overdose. State reports show that the majority of drug-related deaths that occur in Florida are caused by prescription pills like benzodiazepines and oxycontin.
Many pill abusers end up turning to heroin for a cheaper, easier-to-find high. An abundance of heroin on the streets along with alack of overdose prevention tools continues to fuel the state’s drug epidemic. Heroin overdose deaths are increasing throughout the state. Some counties show an annual increase of 120 percent or more. What’s more alarming is that heroin use is especially popular among young Florida adults aged 18-29.
6 Ways to Fight Back Against Florida Substance Abuse
In the ongoing war against drugs and illicit drug abuse, there are a few strategies that Florida citizens and politicians can employ to help. Consider these six suggestions as the foundation for a state-wide movement that needs to promote education and awareness about treating and identifying substance abuse. Every Florida resident plays a role in combating the substance abuse epidemic that is plaguing the Sunshine State, as well as the rest of the US.
1. Prescribe Fewer Opioids
This approach is fairly straightforward. Reducing the amount of opioids prescribed can ultimately lead to a decline in prescription opioid abuse, which continues to be a problem in Florida. Recognizing this, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a new set of guidelines to be used by medical providers when considering prescribing opioids. These guidelines are as follows:
- Provider should consider non-opioid options first
- If opioids are the best option, provider should begin prescribing at low doses. (Dosage can be increased slowly if needed.)
- Provider should inform patients of the risks and properties of any opioids considered.
- All medical professionals prescribing opioids should be mandated to receive continued training on the long term effects of these narcotic drugs.
The CDC also notes that after some time, the provider should assess their patients and how they’re doing to see if they need to prescribe an overdose rescue medication as well.
Florida has also cracked down on “pill mills”- locations where eager individuals could easily obtain prescription painkillers without a legitimate prescription, and enacted a prescription drug monitoring program in September of 2011. The Partnership for Drug Free Kids notes that since this program was established, it now holds “more than 56 million records. [And] it is designed to catch people who doctor-shop to obtain multiple prescriptions, as well as physicians who prescribe too many painkillers. By late last year, law enforcement had used the Florida database more than 20,000 times.”
2. Fighting the Stigma of Addiction
Addiction is recognized as a substance abuse disorder within the medical community. It is a chronic-relapsing brain disease, as described by Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA.
Physician, public health advocate, and the Commissioner of Health for Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Leana Wen adds that “Treating addiction as a crime is inhumane and unscientific.” She cites a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an example of the harm such stigmas can cause. Only 11 of the patients in the study received treatment for their addictions, which would be unacceptable for any other condition.
Part of this battle may have to do with the words that we use. For example, saying “people with addictions” instead of “addicts” is more humanizing.
Treating addiction as a condition that can benefit from and deserves proper treatment rather than simply as something that should be punished will yield overall better results.
3. Stop Overdose Fatality Rates
Many cities and states are making the overdose rescue medication naloxone more accessible. Naloxone can reverse overdose by restoring respiratory function if it’s administered quickly. Naloxone (such as the brand Narcan) is available in different forms such as a nasal spray or intramuscular injection – not unlike that which would be used to inject a person with epinephrine if they were having an allergic reaction. It is also an FDA-approved, non-addictive medication that, over the past 10 years, has saved more than 10,000 lives in the United States alone.
In June of 2015, Florida passed the Emergency Treatment for Opioid Overdose Act into law. The benefits of this law include:
- Permitting all first responders to possess, store, and administer naloxone.
- Allowing a person, acting under a standing order issued by a healthcare professional, to store the opioid antagonist.
With this new legislation in place, Florida medical officials may be able to reduce the amount of overdoses which typically occur statewide. At this point in time, Florida ranks number 11 in drug overdose mortality rates across the US.
4. Promote the Best Treatment Options for Florida Substance Abusers
Addiction treatments are not one-size-fits-all. As such, it’s important to make sure that each individual experiences a treatment plan that is tailored to their own needs. That being said, the four most common types of addiction treatment are: medically-supervised detox, therapeutic programs, outpatient addiction treatment, and partial-hospitalization programs.
- Helps patients learn how to deal with their addictions, relationships, and themselves.
- Teaches them to embrace support from others.
- The actual program varies based on region and individual but most traditional 12-step programs include:
- Admitting to a problem with substances.
- Making amends with those who have been hurt.
- Learning to accept one’s flaws.
- Learning new healthy behaviors to overcome addiction.
- Helping others on their road to recovery.
Outpatient Addiction Treatment
- Consists of patients going to treatment a few times each week at certain times for care.
- May include sessions of psychotherapy like one-on-one therapy, CBT, and group therapy, to determine the underlying causes of the addiction.
- May also include other treatment methods and activities like lifestyle counseling, stress management, relapse prevention strategies, and support groups.
- Allows patients to live outside of the treatment center so they can immediately put their lessons to practice.
- Treatments are usually the same but structure differs.
- Patients will spend the majority of their day at the treatment center.
- Patients will be away from harmful triggers such as being around individuals they may have used with in the past or places they may have obtained their drug of choice.
- Often acts as a starting place for those who are stabilized but need professional help for recovery.
5. Improve Access to Florida Treatment Centers
Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, mentions that improving access to treatment is an immediate goal. A former substance abuser himself, Botticelli explains that “we have a significant gap between people who need treatment and people who get treatment.” Because of this, the President Obama’s 2017 budget will include a proposal of $1.1 billion to fund new treatment.
The challenge will be to establish effective treatment programs outside of major population centers. Furthermore, more physicians will need to be trained to use medication-assisted treatment methods.
6. Long Term Substance Abuse Treatment and Aftercare
There are a handful of drug and alcohol treatment centers on the cutting edge of treating the opioid epidemic in Florida. The use of medications and modern medicine to assists addicts in the recovery process continues to be proven most effective for long term sobriety. The most popular medications used to treat opioid addictions indclude methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. All three of these medications are designed to affect the receptors in the brain, which are stimulated by opioids in different ways. Their effects are as follows:
Medically Treating Addiction
This medication has been administered in treatment clinics for decades. It activates the receptor, thus reducing withdrawal symptoms without producing a “high.”
This medication binds to the opioid receptor but limits the drug’s euphoric effects. A frequently administered form of this medication is Suboxone, which comes in the form of a film that is placed under the tongue. There is also talk of a potential implant which when placed under the skin will release Buprenorphine at regular intervals. However, this is currently still in development.
This medication blocks the effects of opioids on the receptor. The most commonly used form of Naltrexone is called Vivitrol and it is an extended-release injectable. However, use of Vivitrol requires a complete detox before injection to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
Opponents of medically-assisted treatment programs (MATs) argue that patients are essentially trading one drug for another, but this is hardly true. In MATs, medication alone isn’t the solution. Rather, it is part of an addiction-treatment plan for the individual which also includes counselling and traditional therapy. That beings, said, every individual possesses their own unique set of needs which should be addressed accordingly. Some may need to stay at an inpatient facility whereas others won’t. Just as some patients will required medically assisted treatment, and others will not.
Successful treatments will need to cover all bases and make sure the needs of their patients are covered, whether or not these needs can benefit from MATs or other treatment options. However, integrating these methods can ultimately lead to the most effective treatment strategies for people recovering from addiction.