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Tallahassee is the capital of the state of Florida and located in the Big Bend area in the northern region of the state, in the Panhandle. As one of the top 10 largest cities in the United States, Tallahassee is one of the most densely populated cities in the state and in Leon County.
Made up of a significantly younger population than the rest of Florida, Leon County has a high proportion of adults, aged 18-64, living under the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). About 30 percent of this age group lived in poverty as of the 2010 survey, published in the Leon County Community Health Assessment (CHA) 2012-2017. A high number of Florida residents live in poverty, as the state poverty rate is 16.5 per 100,000 people; however, this rate is even higher in Leon County as 26.3 per 100,000 people live below the FPL. Living in poverty can impact a person’s mental health status and raise the odds that they will engage in risky drug and alcohol use and abuse.
Overall, residents of Florida tend to drink alcohol, use drugs, and suffer from addiction and mental health concerns at rates that are pretty similar to national averages, per the Behavioral Health Barometer: Florida, 2015.
Specific to Leon County, the Leon County CHA 2012-2017 reports that one out of every five residents in Leon County reported binge or heavy drinking in 2010 and that car crash rates related to alcohol abuse were higher in Leon County than the rest of the state (127 per 100,000 residents in Leon County versus 107 per 100,000 Florida residents).
The Profile of Drug Indicators for Tallahassee, Florida published in April of 2008, reports that cocaine remains a large drug threat in the region. Cocaine use is higher in Florida than in most other states, possibly due in part to its close proximity to the countries where the drug is grown and manufactured. Methamphetamine continues to be an issue as well, as the drug is produced in clandestine laboratories and for distribution.
Marijuana is a major drug threat across the United States, and this is no different in Tallahassee. Club drugs, such as ecstasy, GHB, Rohypnol, and LSD, are also popular within Tallahassee college communities and the nightclub scene.
Opioid abuse is at epidemic levels in Florida, as the Tampa Bay Times reports that opioid drugs killed around 16 Floridians every day during the first six months of 2016. Heroin and the extremely potent drug fentanyl are leading the death toll.
Treatment for drug abuse and mental health issues can literally be lifesaving; however, Leon County is considered to be a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), and the low-income population is classified as a Medically Underserved Population (MUP). Residents often have to travel outside of Leon County to receive specialty healthcare services, such as substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment. Help and support are available, however, and there are many professional behavioral health services that residents can access in Tallahassee and Leon County.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosts a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to help individuals find mental health and substance abuse treatment providers in their local area. This search tool lists both public and private providers based on type of services requested and location.
Private treatment facilities may be more accessible right away than public treatment programs. Public programs are funded by state and federal dollars, and often more limited in how many beds and openings they have as they are in high demand. Public programs are open to anyone who needs help even if they don’t have health insurance or the financial ability to pay for services.
In Florida, behavioral health treatment is provided through a community-based system of care managed under the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) Program.
Regionally, care is handled by one of seven Managing Entities (MEs), and in Leon County, the ME is Big Bend Community Based Care, which contracts out substance abuse and mental health treatment services to community-based providers.
Providers through Big Bend Community Based Care offer the following substance abuse treatment services:
Florida DCF keeps a current list of licensed substance abuse providers for residents as well as a list of certified recovery residences that provide transitional services. The Leon County Health Department offers resources for Tallahassee and local residents as well.
Crisis and referral services for both mental health and substance abuse concerns can be accessed by contacting 2-1-1 Big Bend at any time of day or night. Nonprofit and community coalitions work to keep Leon County and Tallahassee drug-free and provide options for residents who need professional help for themselves or loved ones in order to keep the local community as healthy and happy as possible. The United Way of Big Bend is an advocate for the local community providing resources and information, for example. The Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association (FADAA), Tobacco-Free Florida, Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition, Florida Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Leon County Responsible Decision Making Coalition (RDMC), and the Leon County Coalition for Healthy Youth all provide preventative and helpful resources for a healthy community.
There are two laws in place that allow family and loved ones to get help for people who they fear are unable to help themselves due to alcohol or drug abuse and/or mental health issues. The Baker Act gives families resources to get a loved one into a treatment program involuntarily if they are incapacitated due to drug and/or alcohol use. Similarly, the Marchmann Act works in much the same way for those struggling with mental illness. These programs give families recourse to help loved ones who need it and who may not be in the right frame of mind to seek it out for themselves.
Diversion programs and treatment services also exist within the legal and criminal justice system in Florida. There are also several drug courts in Florida that help people who are arrested and charged with nonviolent and drug-related offenses to get into treatment programs, often as an alternative to incarceration. Completion of a court-ordered drug treatment program may result in sentences being reduced or charges being dismissed altogether.
There are several pieces of legislation in Florida surrounding the crisis that revolve around the high rate of opioid abuse and fatal overdoses in the Sunshine State. In May 2017, Governor Rick Scott declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in Florida, and in September, a new proposal was introduced that would limit prescription of opioid medications to just three days unless dire circumstances require a seven-day prescription, US News reports. Limiting the time that someone takes a drug like OxyContin (oxycodone) may help to reduce the number of people who struggle with addiction to opioids, which often begins with a prescription for one. These drugs are considered to be extremely addictive, and even if a person takes them for valid and necessary medical reasons, they can quickly develop a dependence that may devolve into drug abuse and possible addiction.
The proposed budget would also increase spending on substance abuse treatment and recovery support services. Florida has a comprehensive Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) called E-FORCSE (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation Program) that requires prescribers of narcotics and prescription drugs, that are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II, III, or IV, to record these prescriptions in the database within one business day of dispensing the drugs. This can help to keep people from “doctor shopping” and seeking out potentially dangerous and habit-forming prescription medications from more than one professional healthcare provider. It may also serve to let providers know of potential abuse, diversion, and drug dependence, which can aid in getting an individual into a professional treatment program when needed.
In July 2017, a law enforcing harsher penalties for the possession of the synthetic opioid fentanyl was signed into law that penalizes drug dealers and aims to eliminate trafficking of the dangerously potent drug, the Orlando Sentinel publishes.
Fentanyl deaths have been skyrocketing in Florida as the drug is used to “cut” heroin, often without the buyer knowing, which can easily result in overdose. In 2016, overdose deaths involving fentanyl jumped almost 100 percent over the prior year’s numbers in Florida. As prescription opioids get harder to divert and abuse, individuals may turn to illegal ones, such as heroin and illicit fentanyl.
First responders in Florida regularly carry Narcan (naloxone), which can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Anyone can walk into a local pharmacy and pick up the antidote without a prescription, thanks to legislation opening up access in an effort to save lives. Florida protects its residents who call in and report an overdose from personal drug-related charges through Good Samaritan laws, which also defend individuals from liability when administering the opioid overdose reversal drug to try and save someone’s life.
Drugs, gangs, crime, and criminal activity are closely intertwined and a serious concern within Tallahassee and Leon County. For the past three years, Leon County has struggled with the highest crime rate in the state, the Tallahassee Democrat publishes. In November 2017, through an initiative called “Operation ALLin,” sheriffs’ departments in Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Liberty, Franklin, and Jefferson counties along with Florida A & M, Tallahassee, and Tallahassee Community College police departments, the Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, and the US Attorney’s Office began working together to reduce illegal drug, gang, and gun prevalence and criminal activity in the region.
Through legislative, law enforcement, and local community efforts, drug abuse can hopefully be prevented and reduced. In addition, individuals battling behavioral health concerns can find resources and services that can support treatment and recovery efforts within Tallahassee through numerous community-based programs and services.
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