The State of Addiction in Florida
The state of Florida is a place unlike any other. Situated along the Southeastern border of the country, the Sunshine State is home to some of the nation’s most desirable tourist destinations, like Disney World, Universal Orlando, Miami and South Beach, the Everglades, and historic Saint Augustine.
However, the skies aren’t always sunny down south. Florida’s unique economy – it is, after all, one of the seven states that does not have state income tax, relying instead on the vast tourism industry – and the culture of transplants that dominate the major metro areas create a diverse and divisive environment that caters to drug use and abuse. Even today, after crackdowns on distribution and harsh laws penalizing dealers and users, the culture of addiction perpetuates from the Keys to the Florida-Georgia line.
The Landscape of Florida
Florida is a long, thin state that borders both Alabama and Georgia. It was named in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and exists as the earliest site of European arrival in the continental U.S. As such, Florida’s history is quite long, with several national and international wars taking place prior to finally declaring statehood in 1845.
The state is dominated by several large metro areas, which include Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Tallahassee, and Saint Augustine. Residents demarcate areas of the state by geography: South Florida, Central Florida, and North Florida.
South Florida generally refers to the thin strip of land between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean made up predominantly of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, which boast a collective population of nearly 7 million. With flashy and wealthy Miami as its crown jewel, South Florida is a fast-paced, modern, and heavily Hispanic location that boasts a tropical climate and plenty of tanned, toned beach-goers all year round.
Central Florida is far more rural, referring more to the interior space within the center of the state rather than the coastal areas. Agriculture, like oranges, strawberries, timber, and other citrus fruits, defines the economy, with many residents living in modest housing and working blue collar jobs.
North Florida takes inspiration from its neighbors, associating with the American South and Dixie. Sometimes seen as a component of the Bible Belt, Northern Florida is far more conservative and traditional than South Florida in particular, with notable locations including the country’s oldest city, Saint Augustine.
While all states have their differences from one side to another, Florida’s three vastly diverse geographic regions create a serious culture divide that contributes greatly to drug use both past and present.
History of Florida Addiction
As one of the oldest territories in the U.S., Florida addiction boasts a long history.
Florida was first settled in the 1500s by the Spanish, who are believed to have brought hemp plants with them to the United States, leading to the start of a long and dark part of American history. Whether this is true or not – some sources claim settlers in Jamestown carried cannabis across the sea, while others indicate that the Portuguese were the guilty party – Florida’s early settlements assuredly played a role in drug cultivation in the New World. More recently, in the early 1900s, Mexican and Caribbean immigrants – many of whom landed in South Florida – contributed to the American smokable cannabis trade, popularizing marijuana throughout the country.
Other drugs have similar ties to Florida. Cocaine, of course, is one of the most notable. Miami played a critical role in the popularity of cocaine in the 1980s and was once known as the cocaine capital of the United States. As a convenient access point for drug cartels out of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru, the local economy thrived under the influx of cocaine, leading to the development of luxury car dealerships, high rise hotels, designer boutiques, and more.
Current Challenges of Florida Addiction
Florida’s continued ties to drug culture are multifaceted, ranging from geography to state laws.
As one of the South’s largest cities for access by sea – nearly 4,000 ships move through Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale each year – tourists from around the world come and go from Florida’s shores. This makes Florida a prime target for trafficking through the state’s three major hubs: South Florida, Orlando and Tampa, and North Florida from Gainesville through Jacksonville.
South Florida is also home to a party-oriented culture, with out-of-towners and high rollers choosing the 305 to celebrate and cut loose. The wealth in the area contributes to recreational use, with high rates of cocaine abuse rivaling those of the 1980s. Numerous celebrities have been arrested in connection to drug use in the city, including the rapper Stitches, Chris Brown, and Lil Wayne.
Until recently, Florida had extremely relaxed laws related to prescription medication. While seemingly positive for those in need of help, the holes in Florida drug laws led to the rapid expansion of pill mills. From 2005 to 2010, the state saw itself as one of the worst offenders in the country. During this time, deaths related to prescription drug use rose an average of 12% a year with oxycodone-related deaths growing by 35% annually.
Current laws attempt to mitigate the situation, but for many Florida residents, the opiate epidemic continues to perpetuate.
The State of Florida Addiction
In the Sunshine State, drug culture is alive and well. In 2006, more than 1,400 people died from overdoses to prescription benzos and opiates, while 633 died from cocaine. On an annual basis, approximately 13,000 individuals enter rehab for marijuana addiction, while an additional 10,000 seek assistance for cocaine. Further, Florida is becoming a top destination for indoor marijuana growing, with the number of indoor grows doubling between 2006 and 2008 alone.
While Florida residents are just as likely to use marijuana and alcohol as most of the other states in the union, the state’s current issues stem from three substances: cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine.
The effects of the 2000s drug mills have left quite a mark on the state. While the legal loopholes that allowed this situation to persist are now largely closed, arresting doctors and shuttering clinics does nothing to treat those who are already addicted. In 2015, heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone were directly responsible for 3,896 deaths across the state – 12% of the total overdose fatalities nationwide. In South Florida, morgues are strained to capacity, with 525 fatal overdoses occurring in Palm Beach County in 2015. The growing presence of fentanyl killed 220 in Miami-Dade, and 90% of Broward’s overdose deaths stemmed from opiate abuse as well.
Cocaine, predominantly from Colombia, is also seeing a resurgence. Over the last year, Florida’s Customs and Border Protection seized 61% more cocaine. Further, drug overdoses are up as well, rising to 1,834 in 2015 versus 1,318 in 2012. Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach counties alone saw a 29% increase from 2014 to 2015. With Miami and Orlando serving as major ports, cocaine is infiltrating South and Central Florida in particular.
Methamphetamine, also known as meth, crystal, or glass, is most popular in blue-collar neighborhoods like those common in Central and Northern Florida. While not among the most popular states for meth – as of 2013, that honor falls to Missouri and other states across the Midwest – many counties across the center of the state possess a significant number of labs per capita. In Brevard, for example, a CNN study identified 37 labs, while nearby Lake County had 32. Orange County, home to Orlando, boasted 27.
Getting Help at our Florida Addiction Center
Despite the prevalence Florida addiction, help is available. As one of the most popular destinations for rehabilitation in the nation, Floridians are well-positioned to receive the compassionate support necessary to recover.