Florida Opioid Overdose Epidemic Explained

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Between ancient Egyptian and Chinese medicine, to the medicine we have the opportunity to study today, there is a great limbo of research and gradually increasing human knowledge on this matter. Today, we can proudly say that we have a lot of knowledge that gives us the power to cure diseases, and we have a lot more yet to gain. But, the greater the power – the greater the cost of it is. Making mistakes in the process of learning is one of the prices humans have paid for every big discovery. One of the examples in our line of work is the Florida opioid overdose epidemic. Now, as we at the addiction treatment center in Florida see mistakes from the past as a learning opportunity, we will today take a walk through a learning lane about this particular situation, and explain it to you along the way.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

In order to truly understand the concept of the Florida opioid overdose epidemic, we need to go back in time, to a period of the late 90s and early 2000s – when it all started. Deaths and addiction rates from opioids spiked dramatically during that time, which we now know as the state’s opioid overdose crisis.

The great spread of “pill mills,” or pain clinics is what caused the whole mess in the first place. At the time, people thought that there are no side effects to opioid painkillers. They thought that they have found a miraculous way to stop the pain, without any consequences. It seemed as if the pain from extensive surgeries and all the other types of pain had come to an end.

A woman taking an opioid
We need to be aware that there is no miraculous way to cure pain in the world.

Lack of consciousness leads to addiction

Doctors prescribed opioids for all kinds of painful sensations, without strict regulations about the amount and frequency of use. There was no real consciousness of the opioid side effects among medical professionals, as well as the public. The good sides and benefits have blinded people into taking way more than necessary and leading them to addiction.

In addition, drug traffickers were able to effortlessly move significant amounts of opioids out of the state because of Florida’s lenient laws on prescription medications.

The state of Florida has taken many steps in response to the crisis, including the introduction of a prescription medication monitoring program and tightened controls on pain clinics. Although these initiatives have helped bring the death toll from opioid overdoses in Florida down, the epidemic of opioid abuse and misuse is still a major concern in the Sunshine State and the rest of the country.

History has a habit of repeating itself until we learn

This opioid overdose epidemic was not, unfortunately, the only incident with opioids in history. Opium, as a pre-opioid, has been around for more than 8000 years. The old Sumerians were using it in a form of clay tablets in order to cure pain. In this large age gap of thousands of years, there have been quite a few epidemics of opioid addiction. Every time humanity forgets the important knowledge they gained through those epidemics – history decides to send a reminder.

In America, the first opioid crisis was around the 1860s, when wounded soldiers took opioids in order to ease the agony and pain after battles. When they came home from war, the addiction continued and it took a great toll on their lives, as well as the lives of their family members. Many years later, the medical society of Florida faces the same crisis, but on steroids.

A battle in 1860s
Florida opioid overdose epidemic is not the first of its kind – back in the day, wounded soldiers used to take opioids to ease the pain.

Opioids – cure or poison?

Opioids are a class of painkillers that function by binding to and activating certain cellular receptors. In short, it’s possible to extract opiates like morphine from the poppy plant or chemically create them like fentanyl. The most commonly used opioids today are:

  • oxycodone
  • morphine
  • methadone
  • oxymorphone
  • hydromorphone
  • fentanyl
  • tapentadol

Each of them dulls pain perception and heightens pleasure when they bind to opioid receptors in brain cells. They are activated when the blood that’s carrying opioids reaches the brain.

When do opioids pose a serious threat?

Because of their efficacy in relieving pain, opioid medicines are not without risk. Opioids may cause drowsiness at lower dosages, but overdosing may cause fatal depression of respiratory and cardiovascular functions. So, as with every medication that exists, opioids can be a cure, but, they can also be poisonous when taken in great amounts, or frequency.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that opioids are, speaking in terms of pharmacology, close relatives to heroin. They induce similar euphoria, which comes as very soothing and comforting in the world as it is today. People seek that psychological sensation, even more than the analgesic features of these medications. Opioid-induced euphoria may trigger a pursuit of more highs, which can eventually develop into dependency.

This dependency can be physical and psychical. In absence of the drug in the organism, an addict will experience withdrawal syndrome symptoms. These symptoms tend to be quite dramatic and scary. And for a good reason – without proper treatment, they can lead to life-threatening conditions. This is why we always recommend at least a partial hospitalization program Florida offers. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • nausea
  • trembling
  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • seizures
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • insomnia

The reaction of an organism to these symptoms can cause further disbalance. That’s why patients with withdrawal symptoms should always have professionals from the inpatient rehab Florida team by their side.

A person suffering from withdrawal in Florida opioid overdose epidemic
Withdrawal syndrome needs to be solved urgently with the help of trained medical professionals.

Withdrawal as fatality

Some substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines, have withdrawal symptoms that may be quite severe and even fatal if not handled properly. Yet, this is quite unusual. For instance, a symptom called delirium tremens has been linked to extreme alcohol withdrawal, as we see a way too often in our patients from alcohol rehab Florida. Delirium tremens may cause severe seizures and perhaps death if it isn’t diagnosed and treated in time. Less than 5% of persons going through alcohol withdrawal may have the syndrome, according to some estimates. Yet, without medical intervention, alcohol withdrawal may be deadly in roughly 15% of instances.

While statistically seldom life-threatening, the discomfort associated with opiate withdrawal is real. Attempting opiate withdrawal without medical supervision has a high chance of relapse, even if the symptoms themselves are not fatal. People may be at a higher risk of overdosing on opioids if they use them again after an extended period of abstinence.

The high vs. the low

Withdrawal is the low point of addiction, but, the high can be as equally scary. If you’ve ever seen a video of people after anesthesia, being happy, and euphoric – in other words, high – that is the best example of how opioids work. But, that euphoria is the reason why people get mentally addicted to opioids, and that is far scarier in the long run. Psychological addiction is a lot harder to overcome as years go by. Our patients at Adderall addiction treatment and as well as the others that have recovered many years ago all say that the craving for that ”high” is the hardest part of drug abstinence. Trying to grab a piece of euphoria is also dangerous because the hunger for it often clouds judgment and many people end up overdosing.

A person experiencing euphoria
The euphoric feeling that opioids bring plays a major role in the Florida opioid overdose epidemic.

The high leads to an abyss of Florida opioid overdose epidemic

In 1992, a hurricane named Andrew hit Florida, but a greater disaster was yet to come. When desperate, people often turn to all kinds of means to get a glimpse of happiness in their lives. As a consequence, the 90s were the years of birth of the opioid crisis, which hit the Sunshine State the hardest. There were 402 fatalities caused by opioid overdoses in 1999. In 2016, there were 2,798 of them, marking a surge of 596.02 percent over the previous 17 years. The data shows that the problem is becoming worse in Florida, with a 52.23 percent rise in deaths related to opioid overdoses between 2015 and 2016.

Those between the ages of 25 and 34 in Florida, and those between the ages of 35 and 44, are the most at risk for dying from an opioid overdose. In 2016, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 815 people in the United States and 716 people in Canada. This represented an overall growth of 66.95 percent over the previous year. There were 246 opioid overdose fatalities among people aged 24 and younger in the state that year.

Three waves of epidemic

Over 630,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses between 1999 and 2016. Almost two-thirds of those included the use of an opioid. In 2016, there were almost five times as many fatal overdoses as there were in 1999.

According to the CDC, there have been three separate waves of mortality due to opioid overdoses. The first one happened in the 1990s when doctors suddenly started prescribing more and more opioids. There was a spike in heroin usage that ushered in the second wave in 2010. There has been a rise in overdoses associated with illegal synthetic opioids like fentanyl since 2013.

A hand holding drugs

What factors contributed to the epidemic?

The emergence of Florida’s opioid overdose crisis is the result of a number of interrelated causes:

  1. Opioid painkillers were overprescribed by physicians in Florida in the late 1990s and early 2000s, resulting in increased availability, abuse, and dependence.
  2. Unscrupulous pain clinics, sometimes known as “pill mills,” distributed massive supplies of opioid pills without doing necessary medical assessments on their patients.
  3. When prescription opioids became more difficult to get owing to stricter restrictions, many individuals switched to heroin because of its lower price and greater ease of access.
  4. Overdose fatalities have risen in recent years due to the proliferation of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is much more deadly than their natural opioid counterparts.
  5. Opioid addicts in Florida face additional challenges due to a chronic dearth of addiction treatment facilities in the state.
  6. Substance misuse and addiction continue to be stigmatized in Florida and the rest of the nation, which may discourage individuals from getting assistance and contribute to an underreporting of overdose fatalities.

Overprescription

Prescribing medication is now regulated to a far greater extent than it was back in the days when opioids first started to get more used in everyday clinical practice. The main issue with overprescription is the lack of regulation of the amount each patient takes. This is crucial because the main mechanism of the opioid addiction development is, in fact, the lack of that kind of controlled intake. As the laws also failed to regulate this issue, another negative phenomenon developed – doctor shopping.

A doctor
The lack of regulations about medication prescriptions lead to so-called ”doctor shopping”

What is doctor shopping?

The phrase “doctor shopping” refers to when a patient goes to many physicians in order to fill multiple prescriptions for drugs like opioids. During the opioid epidemic, when prescription opioids were easily accessible and frequently abused, this was especially true in Florida. Patients who “doctor shopped” would go to many medical professionals, claiming to be in agony and asking for opioid prescriptions without ever letting any of them know about the others. They were able to fill many prescriptions and either keep the drugs for themselves or sell them.

The availability of opioids and the likelihood of addiction and overdose were exacerbated by the “doctor shopping” practice in Florida. Without having a full picture of the patient’s opioid usage made it harder for clinicians to identify those at risk of addiction or overdose.

Luckily, Florida has instituted new controls on opioid prescriptions and established a prescription drug monitoring program to combat the problem of patients going from one doctor to another to get opioids. With this system, clinicians may identify whether their patients have gotten opioids from other providers. This aids in limiting patients’ options for providers and gives physicians more data on which to work when prescribing opioids.

Pill mills

The Florida opioid problem was exacerbated in large part because of pill mills. There were shady pain clinics in the state that sold plenty of opiate medicines without following the law. Florida’s weak rules and enforcement at the time, along with the state’s strong demand for prescription opioids, made it possible for pill mills to thrive.

Most pill mills passed themselves off as pain clinics, promising patients simple and rapid access to opioid prescriptions. In other cases, patients didn’t even need to be seen or diagnosed by a doctor to get their pills. Some clinics would fill prescriptions for persons who did not live in Florida, and customers would pay cash.

It’s likely that Florida’s broad availability of opioids is at least partially attributable to the huge amount of prescriptions distributed by pill mills here. Several patients developed an addiction to prescription opioids, and when they ran out or could no longer afford their medication, some of them resorted to heroin or other illicit opioids.  This can be directly linked to Florida’s opioid issue and the subsequent increase in overdose fatalities.

A lot of pills
Pill mills had a major contribution to the development of a crisis.

Illicit drugs

The most commonly prescribed opioids are OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. But, according to the experience of our experts at the oxycodone rehab center, as these are quite expensive, they are not as accessible as other medications. So, when a person develops physical addiction, they need to turn to cheaper options.

Heroin, like pharmaceutical opioids (OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet), belongs to the opioid drug class. Opioid tolerance implies that the individual needs increasingly high dosages of the medication to obtain the same effects as before they started abusing opioids. So, some individuals may resort to heroin, which is less expensive and more widely accessible than prescription opioids, to fulfill their cravings and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin provides a more potent and rapid onset high, which might lead those who misuse prescription opioids to switch to it. Injecting heroin causes the substance to reach circulation rapidly and provides a surge of euphoria. Because of its illegal status, heroin is often laced with more potent drugs like fentanyl. A lot of our patients at heroin rehab Florida claim that they have used heroin in this way. However, this combo can be quite fatal because of the nature and molecular interactions between these two substances.

In addition, there is a considerable risk of addiction and dependency on both prescription opioids and heroin. Addiction to opioids is characterized by a shift in brain chemistry that makes it difficult to discontinue the use of the substance without suffering unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. As a result, some individuals who have tried to quit using opioids find themselves unable to stop using them in order to cope with the discomfort of withdrawal and the intense need to consume more of the substance.

Fentanyl expansion

Synthetic opioid fentanyl is 50-100 times more strong than morphine. While it has a legitimate medicinal use, fentanyl is also illicitly manufactured and marketed on the black market. The opioid problem in Florida has been exacerbated by the rapid growth of fentanyl manufacture and distribution over the last several years. A major factor in fentanyl’s contribution to Florida’s opioid issue is that it is often smuggled into the state combined with other substances, such as heroin or cocaine. Inadvertent overdoses are possible since the user isn’t aware of the drug’s strength. Because of its extreme potency, even a tiny dose of fentanyl may be fatal.

Fentanyl’s isolation on the market is another factor that has fueled Florida’s opioid epidemic. Drug traffickers may make a larger profit off of fentanyl sales since the narcotic is cheaper to manufacture than other opioids. This has unfortunately contributed to a rise in overdose mortality due to the potency of fentanyl. Overall, the rising availability of fentanyl on the black market, the rising number of overdose fatalities, and the rising number of persons seeking treatment for opiate addiction have all contributed to Florida’s opioid problem.

Addiction treatment centers’ deficiency

A significant component in Florida’s opioid issue is the state’s inadequate network of centers that treat substance abuse. Medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and support services are all necessary components in the treatment of opioid addiction, which is a chronic condition. Nevertheless, there is a lack of addiction treatment centers in Florida, which means that many individuals who are battling opioid addiction cannot receive these treatments.

The waiting lists are long

Those who want to receive assistance for their addiction have a harder time doing so since there aren’t enough addiction treatment centers in Florida. Those battling opioid addiction may have to wait weeks or months to get into one of the many treatment centers that provide help for this disease. They may continue opiate usage, putting themselves in danger of overdose or other adverse effects, for the foreseeable future.

The lack of proper facilities makes a lack of medications

The limited availability of medication-assisted treatments like methadone and buprenorphine is another way that the shortage of addiction treatment centers has contributed to Florida’s opioid problem. While these drugs have shown promising results in treating opioid addiction, they are now only accessible via inpatient rehab centers. Those with opioid addiction may find it more challenging to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings without these drugs. This, in return, increases their risk of relapse.

Florida’s opioid issue has been exacerbated by a shortage of rehabilitation centers. Counseling and peer support groups are just two examples of necessary aftercare services in many addiction treatment centers. Those in recovery may be more at risk for relapse and other setbacks if they are unable to have access to these programs.

Stigma and society

There are several factors leading to Florida’s opioid problem, but one of the quite important is the social stigma associated with drug use. Discrimination, social isolation, and a lack of resources for treatment and care may all result from this stigma.

According to our experts at IOP Palm Beach, stigma has played a role in exacerbating the opioid issue in Florida. It constantly deters those afflicted with addiction from getting assistance. Many people who abuse drugs or deal with addiction are hesitant to get help because they are embarrassed or afraid of the judgment of others. As a result, they may have longer wait times before receiving care. Unfortunately. this often worsens their health and even cause an overdose.

Punishment instead of compassion

The lack of compassion and sympathy for drug users and addicts is another effect of stigma. This misunderstanding of this issue often leads to counterproductive policies and practices. There’s been the criminalization of drug use, that fail to address the underlying causes of the opioid epidemic while punishing those who are in need of assistance. This may further impede people’s ability to get access to treatment and support resources. In turn, it can all feed into the cycle of addiction and recidivism.

As our experts at meth rehab Florida say, stigma may influence how healthcare practitioners and governments react to the opioid problem. As a result, providers and politicians may be less likely to adequately address the needs of people who use drugs or suffer from addiction.

Healthcare and economy suffer during Florida opioid overdose epidemic

The economic and healthcare systems of Florida have been seriously impacted by the opioid epidemic. Many economic and social repercussions have resulted from the crisis, including higher healthcare expenses, lower productivity, and fewer people participating in the labor force. Increased demand for addiction treatment, ER visits, and hospitalizations due to opioid usage have all placed a strain on the healthcare system in Florida, which is already struggling to keep up with the state’s population’s needs.

Healthcare providers, insurance companies, and taxpayers have borne a disproportionate share of the financial burden associated with treating people with opioid addiction. Increased cases of communicable illnesses like HIV and hepatitis have been linked to the opioid problem, putting even greater stress on Florida’s healthcare system. One of the important health issues is sharing needles among IV drug users, as it is a major pathway for deadly infections to spread.

Losses take the economy into the vicious circle

The state of Florida’s economy has felt the effects of the opioid epidemic as well. Experts put the yearly cost of lost productivity due to opioid addiction and overdose fatalities in the billions of dollars. Also, businesses are bearing the additional costs of opioid-addicted workers’ absenteeism, poor productivity, and higher healthcare expenses. And as we said, high healthcare expenses often lead to addiction. That means that we’re entering a vicious circle that is hard to get out of. This exactly is one of the reasons that this epidemic is taking so long and is this hard to manage.

Addiction prevents many people from working or finding jobs; therefore, the opioid epidemic has also reduced labor participation. As a consequence, more people are relying on welfare programs like Medicaid and food stamps. Also, a great concern for people struggling with addiction is – does insurance cover rehab, and if so, to what extent?

How does the Sunshine State deal with this problem?

In response to the opioid crisis, the state of Florida has introduced a number of measures to reduce the likelihood of fatal overdoses. Methods in this category include:

  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program
  • increased distribution of naloxone
  • opioid prescription guidelines
  • public awareness campaigns
  • increase in treatment and recovery services

PDMP

The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is an electronic database maintained on a state level that tracks prescriptions for restricted substances, including opioids. Doctors and other medical professionals may use this database to look up their patients’ prescription histories and learn about any overdose or drug interaction dangers that may have occurred.

Naloxone distribution

Naloxone is given out to those who have overdosed on opioids so that they can get back on their feet. This drug has been extensively disseminated across the state of Florida, where it has been given to emergency responders, medical professionals, and community groups. In addition, they provide naloxone education for bystanders who may encounter an opioid overdose.

Increasing awareness – in medical and public circles

Medical professionals in the state are expected to adhere to opioid prescribing standards established by the state. The over-prescribing of opioids is a major public health concern, and these recommendations are meant to cut down on that. Florida has begun a public awareness campaign to inform residents of the dangers of opioids and the steps they may take to avoid an overdose. It’s not only the entire public that these commercials are aimed at; they’re also aimed at particular groups like teens and veterans.

Everyone puts an effort

In order to help those who suffer from opioid addiction, the state has increased access to rehabilitation centers and other treatment facilities. Medication, psychotherapy, and mutual aid groups are all part of the package. So, overall, the state of Florida is making significant strides in combating the opioid crisis and preventing overdoses. Also, residential drug treatment Florida facilities played a major role in this. These methods are designed to lessen the tragedy of opioid overdose fatalities and improve the standard of living for those who struggle with this disease.

Florida opioid overdose epidemic is an ongoing problem and a learning opportunity

For the last few decades, we’ve witnessed the devastating effect of human despair and a dysfunctional system. Florida’s opioid overdose epidemic continues to be a problem we fight with every day and the problem we will fight with in the future. But, it also serves as a good learning opportunity, not only for us Americans but the whole world. Learning from our mistakes and making an effort not to repeat them is the only way to a brighter future for everyone.

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