A Special Message for Florida Parents: The Opioid Crisis

I arrived in South Florida this summer from Washington, D.C. with over thirteen years of sobriety. Over those years, I have attended thousands of twelve-step meetings, and have heard most everything, including loss of children, financial ruin, prison time, overdoses, and suicides, but in the short time since taking residency in the Sunshine State, my previous understanding of the existing opioid crisis has been expanded far beyond what I previously imagined.  

The opioid crisis is not unique to Florida; Rhode Island and Maine are also suffering from a severe problem. I was aware of the problem before moving to South Florida and contemplated the risks of bringing my teenage daughter to the epicenter of the crisis.  Washington, D.C. where we moved from is the least affected city in America according to one report. It has a strong recovering community, access to thousands of 12-step meetings, a large number of people with long-term sobriety, and access to professional support.

Likewise, Florida has plenty of meetings, access to treatment centers and sober living communities. I am also aware Delray Beach is recognized as the top recovery community in the country, though I am not sure under what criteria it earns this reputation. In the United States, 197 people die every day from a drug overdose, that's over 72,000 people a year. In 2016, 2798 people died from opioid-related use in the state of Florida alone; 1700 or 63% of those deaths were in South Florida.

According to the Miami Herald, more people under the age of 50 die from overdoses than heart disease or car accidents. The Center for Disease Control reports the life expectancy rate in the United States has dropped for the third consecutive year due to overdoses and suicides. It's not uncommon for an addict to take his own life when their situation becomes so hopeless.   

I recently met a 35-year-old man who came here 5 years ago to clean up from a pill addiction and became addicted to shooting heroin. Soon after arriving this once married, professional, New Jersey homeowner was sleeping on a cardboard box on the side of the road; he spent his waking hours wondering where the cars were going. He imagined them going home to a clean, comfortable bed and a welcoming wife.  I think about this man often and how demoralizing his experience must have been. Sadly he is not alone, I have heard many similar stories. Most sobering for me is hearing young people say they "decided to be homeless". This choice of words haunts me.

I am not picking on Florida per se, but living here and being part of the recovery community puts the problem right in my face.  It all begs the question, what would I do if my South Florida teenager or adult-child were addicted to heroin; the answer for starters would be to get them out of South Florida if they can't stay sober.  The risk of not pulling them out is too high. Opioid-related deaths occur at an instant; there is no opportunity to contemplate second chances or make good on previously broken promises of getting clean.

Staying sober is difficult in the best circumstances; only a small number of people make it. Lasting sobriety requires the addict to make drastic changes; certainly getting out of a place where the statistics are against you is a move in the right direction. Sending your kid away is not the whole answer, but I think it can really help.

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South Florida Intervention offers exclusive solutions for families struggling with the devastating effects of addiction. Marc Kantor is a professional interventionist and the founder of South Florida Intervention, based in Boca Raton, FL. If someone you know is struggling with addiction, we can help. For additional information please e-mail us at marc@southfloridaintervention.com.

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