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Substance use and drug-related deaths hammer Florida



The rates of drug addiction and overdose deaths in Florida have not slowed down. The opioid epidemic, which involves fentanyl, prescription pain medication and heroin, continues.


The pandemic may have changed drug trafficking, but opioids continue to claim more lives than any other drug. These problems have hammered the state for many years.


In August, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new substance use and recovery network to disrupt the opioid epidemic. Coordinated Opioid Recovery offers a network of addiction care.


Additionally, the state has increased the penalties for trafficking drugs.


Unfortunately, Florida has seen close to 2,000 fatal overdoses this year. The Miami Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency warned in July of an alarming rise in fentanyl-related overdoses, and the Central Florida High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Team has seen a 72% increase in drug overdose deaths because of fentanyl.


These drugs are easy to come by, primarily provided through online drug dealers. “Drug dealers have turned to social media to find new customers, and there is no limit to where they can reach,” said Marcel Gemme of Addicted.org. “Social media platforms have become the gateway for dealers to reach younger people and start the next generation of drug users.”


Drug networks are mixing synthetic fentanyl with other drugs in powder and pill form. It is made to look like prescription pain medication or is mixed with heroin. Mass overdose events in Florida occur because fentanyl is sold as a street drug like cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, yet it contains synthetic opioids.


Since 2017, drug overdose deaths involving all drugs in the state have increased, reaching 36 per 100,000 population in 2020. Opioids continue to be involved in the majority, followed by stimulants.


The illegal drug trade is a massive problem in the state, and there were over 68,000 drug-related arrests in 2020. Addiction continues to consume countless lives. Many of these individuals are caught up in a cycle of crime and addiction and are struggling with underlying mental health problems.


Unfortunately, many of the same barriers exist when accessing drug rehab, such as inadequate health insurance or no health insurance. In addition, addicts experience stigma and co-occurring disorders with no access to proper care. Well-rounded approaches are critical to treating the problem.


Only 39% of residents have health insurance through an employer, 12% are uninsured, and 19% have Medicare. Ability to pay for drug rehab is the most common barrier for families and individuals. As the state continues to be hammered by the drug problem, steps are being taken.


The best solution remains adequate prevention and education campaigns, detoxification and withdrawal management, and residential drug rehabilitation.


Michael can be reached at m.leach@addicted.org.


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