North Florida Hit Hard By Substance Use
By: Lakeview Health
Published: May 23, 2017

Photo by Johnathan Zander / CC BY 2.0

Substance use in Florida is on the rise as the national opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of lives in Florida. Earlier this month, Governor Rick Scott officially declared a public health emergency, which allows the state to accept federal grant money for prevention, treatment, and recovery services totaling more than $54 million over the next two years. As the Miami Herald reported, “opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 Floridians and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths in 2015.” North Florida is one of the regions in the state that has been hit hard by the epidemic. According to, “911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled, with a call every two hours now. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.” The medical examiner for Florida’s Fourth District, Dr. Valerie Rao—whose area includes Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties—recently told WUSF radio, “The number of local overdoses due to opioid abuse is on such a dramatic increase that the freezer where bodies are stored awaiting an autopsy is filled to capacity.” Many Floridians still think this is only a problem for people living in deprived neighborhoods, but that is no longer true.

“It’s now affecting everyone, regardless of age or income.”

– Katie Armstrong, Lakeview Health

Armstrong recently attended an event in the affluent Mandarin neighborhood of Jacksonville. A representative of the local fire department brought slides to illustrate where the drug-related emergency calls originate. Many people in the audience were surprised to learn that many of the people seeking information about rehabs in Florida come from all over their own neighborhood. “Lakeview supports these kinds of events to raise awareness of the addiction crisis,” says Armstrong. Opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines are among the most frequently misused substances in Northern Florida. “Many people are addicted to more than one substance,” says Armstrong. Misusing combinations of alcohol and several drugs at the same time is known as polysubstance use. It is extremely dangerous. Armstrong works with hospitals, primary care providers, and law enforcement to help fight the addiction crisis and provide information about treatment options. The sheriff of St.Johns County intends to establish a new task force on homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse. Lakeview Health will use its considerable expertise to provide training for task force members on the complex subject of substance use disorders. Armstrong also works with a group called Drug Free Duval that promotes a culture free of alcohol and substance abuse throughout Duval County. All these efforts are beginning to show results. Healthcare providers are becoming more aware of addiction risks and have started screening patients accordingly. Physicians have begun to be more cautious with prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. Armed with more information about the disease of addiction, they are more inclined to refer their patients to residential treatment.

If you are a professional in North Florida interested in referring a patient to our facility, contact Katie Armstrong.