Home to big theme parks and a bustling tourism industry, Orlando, Florida, is a prime destination and vacation city for many. With a resident population of 262,372, Orlando is a bustling and busy city.
Almost 20 percent of the city’s population is below the poverty level. Located in central Florida, Orlando is in Orange County, and it is in an at-risk area for drug trafficking and smuggling. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) places Orlando inside the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which includes the counties of Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk, Volusia, Pinellas, and Hillsborough. Orlando may be a shipment hub for cash and drugs, especially marijuana coming from Mexico. Controlled prescription drug trafficking, diversion, and abuse, as well as cocaine use, are also concerns in this region of Central Florida.
With the increased presence of drugs may also come drug abuse. Within Florida, an estimated 8 percent of the population are considered current drug abusers (according to a survey done on past-month drug abuse in 2008). While this is similar to the national drug abuse average, the drug overdose rate for Floridians is higher than the rest of the country; Florida ranks 11th in drug overdose mortality rates in the United States. More than 4,000 Florida residents had one or more drugs in their system at their time of death in just the first six months of 2014. In many of these cases, a drug overdose was the cause of death.
Addiction is another potential side effect to drug abuse, and it often co-occurs with mental illness as well. An estimated 660,000 adults and 181,000 children in Florida suffered from mental illness at the time of the national survey in 2010. Mental health and substance abuse both fall into the category of behavioral health, and both conditions are highly treatable with the proper type and level of care.
The Rise and Fall of Pill Mills
Opioid pain pills like OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone) effectively block pain sensors in the brain. Perhaps an unintended consequence, they also activate the reward and pleasure centers by increasing dopamine levels. When abused a rush of euphoria, or high, occurs, thereby increasing the abuse potential of these drugs. As the demand for these drugs rose, retail pill mill outlets began springing up all over Florida. Due to its easy access to the rest of the country, Orlando became a hub for the diversion of controlled prescription drugs (CPDs).
In 2009, the Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) reported a big jump of CPD-related investigations since 2007, from 10 percent to 70 percent of their cases. In 2011, there were over 850 pain clinics and only seven of the top 100 oxycodone prescribing doctors in the US were not located in Florida in 2010.