South Florida is considered one of the largest points of entry for marijuana, cocaine, and heroin as well as a primary region for pharmaceutical drug diversion and domestic marijuana-growing operations.1
Palm Beach County is home to 39 municipalities, including Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach.2 Palm Beach’s location on the Atlantic Ocean at the southern end of the United States provides drug traffickers from Mexico, the Bahamas, Latin America, and the Caribbean an entry point into Florida by plane, boat, or drug mule, just as its interstate highways give easy access to the rest of the state and country.1
Palm Beach County, including the city of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, luckily has a number of mental health specialists to address these growing concerns. However, the region could use wider access to substance abuse treatment as the South Florida city experiences changes in drug imports, alcohol abuse, and more.
Substance Abuse in the Palm Beach Metro Area
Within South Florida’s Palm Beach County, close to 60,000 of the more than 1 million residents are considered current users of marijuana. Almost 34,000 are classified as current illicit drug abusers, which means that they abused these substances in the 30 days before the national survey was conducted.3
West Palm Beach, Florida, has a moderate population, with over 111,00 people living in the metro area. The average age is nearly 40.4 The population grows year over year, which makes having adequate addiction treatment facilities and staff very important.
For survey purposes, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) considers Palm Beach County to be part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area. Between 2005 and 2010, the NSDUH found that among people ages 12 and older:5
- 5% abused some type of illicit drug in the past year.
- 1% abused marijuana at least once in the past year.
- 3% abused narcotic painkillers for nonmedical reasons.
- 1% reported smoking cigarettes in the past month.
- 3% reported at least one instance of binge drinking in the past month.
- 8% had a diagnosable substance use disorder.
Palm Beach Drug Problems Facing Law Enforcement
Drug trends tend to wax and wane with the times as regulations are put into place and law enforcement operations make access for one particular drug more difficult. For example, prescription drug diversion became a bigger problem in the early 2000s.
Pain clinics sprung up all over Florida, and doctors were prescribing opioid narcotics without much regulation. Prescription overdose deaths in the state skyrocketed 61% from 2003-2009.6
Law enforcement and legislators took notice of the issue, put new regulations in place, and created task forces designed to stem the flow of prescription drug diversion and illegal distribution in 2010. All drug overdose deaths dropped 18% between 2010 and 2012.6
While prescription drug overdoses dropped however, heroin overdoses spiked 67% in Palm Beach County from 2011 to 2013.3 Heroin may be a substitute for other opioids, such oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are both prescription narcotics.
In the first half of 2018, heroin was found in the systems of 79 people who had passed away and was noted as the cause of death in 48 deaths.7 Fentanyl, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine and is highly addictive, was responsible for the deaths of 278 people in Palm Beach County in 2018.8
Most of the prescription opioid abusers (80% of those in treatment for opioid abuse treatment) and heroin abusers (90% of individuals treated for heroin abuse) in Palm Beach County are injecting the drugs, however, which increases all potential health risks associated with drug abuse.3
South Florida is considered to be the primary entry point for all South American heroin coming into the United States.9
The biggest drug threat in Palm Beach today, according to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, is cocaine, as it flows across the Mexican and South American borders into Florida and out into the rest of North America.9
Cocaine overdose deaths in the first six months of 2014 in West Palm Beach, the largest city in Palm Beach County, ranked third in the state of Florida, with 71 overdose fatalities involving the illicit drug.10
Marijuana is also locally grown in the more rural areas of Southeastern Florida, and hydroponic grow operations have expanded in recent years. Florida is now second only to California as a national producer of indoor-grown marijuana.9
More than half of the treatment admissions in Palm Beach County for primary marijuana abuse and dependency are for individuals under the age of 18.3
Substances Abused at Treatment Admission
Nationwide in 2015, only about 10% of people who needed some sort of addiction treatment received it.11
- 1,926 people entered alcohol treatment centers in West Palm Beach for alcohol problems.
- 1,225 people sought drug treatment centers in Palm Beach County for prescription opioid abuse.
- 1,105 people entered substance abuse treatment to overcome marijuana addiction.
- 571 people entered rehabs in Palm Beach County for heroin addiction.
- 143 people sought Palm Beach rehab programs to overcome benzodiazepine addiction.
- 295 people requested help from a Palm Beach rehab to overcome a cocaine addiction.
- 12 people entered a Palm Beach addiction center for methamphetamine addiction.
- 8 people requested treatment for MDMA abuse in Palm Beach County.
- 421 people sought drug treatment centers in Palm Beach County for other types of substance abuse treatment.
Like much of the Sunshine State, Palm Beach County focuses on law enforcement rather than treatment for substance users. For example, a person can face jail time and have their driver’s license revoked for two years for possession of one joint; however, entering the county’s drug court system for treatment can reduce or eliminate these penalties.
What Drugs are Teens Using in South Florida?
The 2018 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey (FYSAS) lists percentages of self-reported substance abuse among teenagers in the state, ages 12-17. Just like the nationwide Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, FYSAS examines middle and high school grade levels. Palm Beach County had 1,246 students in grades 6-12 who participated in the survey.
The FYSAS survey found that the past 30-day prevalence of substance use for middle-school aged youth included:12
- 2% who consumed alcohol.
- 6% who participated in binge drinking.
- 2% who vaped.
- 3% who smoked marijuana.
- 2% who took over the counter medication.
- 5% who took any illicit drug except marijuana.
- 13% who consumed alcohol or took any illicit drug.
Among high schoolers in the past 30 days (at the time of the survey):12
- 8% consumed alcohol.
- 9% participated in binge drinking.
- 3% vaped.
- 21% smoked marijuana.
- 1% took over the counter medication.
- 1% took any illicit drug except marijuana.
- 4% consumed alcohol or took any illicit drug.
At both the middle and high school age, smoking cigarettes (0.7% and 1.5% respectively), taking prescription pain relievers (0.9% and 0.8% respectively), and taking depressants (1.2% and 0.3% respectively) was a statistically low number of youths in the survey.
One of the few drugs more popular than ever among adolescents in the U.S. is marijuana. The 2018 MTF found nearly 36% of 12th graders in the country have ever abused marijuana ever. There was also a significant increase of daily marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders.13
Among risky marijuana-related behaviors, though, Palm Beach County high schoolers were more likely to get in a car with a driver who had been abusing marijuana than alcohol:12
- 9% of students reported riding with a driver who had smoked marijuana.
- 6% of high school students reported driving themselves after abusing marijuana.
In comparison, 14.4% had been a passenger with a driver who had been drinking.
Alarming Drug Trends in South Florida
Although any use or abuse of alcohol or drugs is worrisome, there are some substances that are posing unique, troublesome questions and concerns in South Florida.
Illegal Stimulant Drugs
Illicit drug labs around the world and within the state of Florida have produced massive quantities of the illegal stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy) over the years.
Methamphetamine, meth for short, incidents in Palm Beach County have been escalating since 2011; however, numbers are still not as high as in other areas of the country, such as the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area.3
MDMA has often been considered a club drug, and in recent years, authorities have noticed a surge in a new version of ecstasy dubbed Molly on the streets. While often marketed as pure MDMA, Molly may actually contain multiple other substances, and even toxins and fillers, making it particularly dangerous.
Two South Florida crime labs tested seized Molly pills in 2012 and found that hundreds of them actually contained the dangerous stimulant methylone, often found in bath salts, instead of just the pure 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as may have been advertised and expected.14
Another relatively new designer drug hitting the streets of South Florida is called flakka, $5 insanity, or gravel, which is actually Alpha-PVP, a synthetic cathinone like those found in bath salts. At $3-5 a hit this drug is fairly cheap, and may stay in an individual’s system for up to five days, causing paranoia, hallucinations, fever, and other dangerous psychoactive effects.15
In neighboring Broward County, between September 2014 and June 2015, there were 25 deaths attributed to flakka. In just the first four months of 2015, there were 10 exposure calls from residents of Palm Beach County to Florida’s Poison Information Center involving the drug alpha-PVP.3
In 2014, there was a 46% increase in crime lab cases involving synthetic cathinones, including alpha-PVP, throughout Southeast Florida from 2013. These drugs are often being added to e-cigarettes to be smoked, or vaped.3
Another synthetic drug trend that may also involve the use of e-cigarettes is that of synthetic cannabinoids. These drugs usually contain high and potent levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and in 2014 there was a 57% increase in crime lab cases in Southeastern Florida regarding these designer drugs.3
Between 2014 and the first four months of 2015, there have been four calls in Palm Beach County to the Poison Information Center involving synthetic cannabinoids, which may include drugs like Budder, Spice, and K2.3
The website don’tbeaguinneapig.com was set up by several local Palm Beach County organizations to help educate youth, families, and parents on the potential dangers of these and more synthetic drugs.
Heroin and Fentanyl Abuse in Palm Beach, Florida
The county of Palm Beach, which is home to several cities, including West Palm Beach, has been hit especially hard by the heroin abuse and the overdose epidemic that is ravaging Florida.
In 2015, there were 779 overdose deaths from heroin abuse, 165 of which were in Palm Beach County. Of those, 158 were caused by heroin, although only 16 involved just heroin with no other drugs present.16
In 2016, West Palm Beach alone experienced 70 overdose deaths, according to the Sun-Sentinel; the county overall experienced one opioid overdose death every 15 hours, which was double the rate of fatal car crashes and murders.17
With so many people struggling with heroin abuse, illicit fentanyl abuse has become one of the leading causes of opioid overdose in the country, including in Florida. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or sold in place of heroin, so people who struggle with heroin addiction may accidentally purchase this drug. This leads to numerous overdose deaths because fentanyl is more potent than heroin, so people accidentally ingesting fentanyl take too much.
Carfentanil Abuse in Palm Beach County
Carfentanil, a drug commonly used as an elephant tranquilizer, is leading a surge of opioid overdose deaths in PBC in 2017. In one three-month span prior to February 2017, officials reported 87 overdose deaths involving this opioid, which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl.18
Prescription Painkiller Deaths in Palm Beach County
Four out of five people in the state who struggle with heroin addiction began by abusing prescription painkillers, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine. Overdose deaths from these drugs are high in West Palm Beach. In 2015, medical examiners found:19
- 80 deaths involving oxycodone.
- 9 overdose deaths from just oxycodone.
- 26 deaths involved hydrocodone.
- 3 overdose deaths involved hydrocodone with no other drugs.
Many prescription painkiller deaths involve older adults. Of the 47 overdose deaths in West Palm Beach caused by oxycodone, none were under 18 years old while 16 were between ages 35 and 50, and 17 were people over the age of 50. The same was true of hydrocodone: Of the 16 deaths caused by a hydrocodone overdose, none occurred in people younger than 35; four people were between the ages of 25 and 50; and the other 12 were in individuals over 50 years old.19
Morphine Overdose Rates in Palm Beach, Florida
West Palm Beach also experienced shockingly high rates of morphine-related overdose deaths in 2016:20
- 256 deaths involved morphine.
- 227 were caused directly by morphine.
- 3 were caused by morphine alone, with no other drugs.
Of the 227 morphine overdose deaths, 71 were people 35 to 50 years old.20
Methadone Usage in West Palm Beach
Methadone is also abused in West Palm Beach, and it led to 23 overdose deaths in 2016; 13 of those were caused by methadone, and one involved just methadone with no other drugs present. This suggests that people who struggle with methadone abuse are likely to be polydrug abusers. Because methadone is being prescribed to low-income individuals to ease pain, many people who overdosed on methadone were older adults; five of the 23 who died were over the age of 50, and 2 were between 35 and 50 years old.20
Benzodiazepines Increase Overdose Death Risk
Benzodiazepine abuse and addiction have been called a shadow epidemic. These drugs are widely misused for nonmedical reasons, but more often in combination with other drugs than alone.
Still, reports from medical examiners on overdose deaths in West Palm Beach have found that benzodiazepines play a large role in overdoses and poisoning deaths by themselves too. Between January and December 2016, deaths in Florida involving benzodiazepines included 1,851 with alprazolam present in the body, 813 of which was due to only alprazolam.20
Prescription drugs account for 61 percent of all drug occurrences in this report when ethyl alcohol is excluded.20
Alcohol Struggles in Palm Beach County
A September 2012 community health assessment for Palm Beach County found that one-fifth of adults in Palm Beach County engaged in binge drinking or heavy drinking. Florida’s rates as a whole were 19.8% while PBC had slightly higher rates at 20.1 percent. About 9.8% of those individuals were female.21
Although alcohol consumption patterns are a problem in the county, alcohol-related traffic accidents are decreasing. Between 2008 and 2009, according to a different community health survey, Florida saw a statewide decrease of 23.8% in roadway traffic crashes caused by alcohol; Palm Beach County was found to have a lower traffic death rate compared to the state overall. Current PBC measures suggest that 17.6% of the population drinks excessively, and 30.3% of driving deaths involve alcohol.22
West Palm Beach’s Cocaine Problem
Cocaine is a surprisingly large problem in southern Florida, especially compared to the rest of the country. Police see it as one of the largest drug threats in South Florida, claiming most of the cocaine in the state comes from South America.9
Statewide, occurrences of cocaine-related death increased by 57% in 2016—and deaths by cocaine increased 83%.20
In West Palm Beach specifically, 405 people died due to, in part, cocaine. A total of 48 deaths were attributed to cocaine only, while in 291 it was the cause, although other substances were present.20
Local Palm Beach Rehab, Behavioral Health & Substance Abuse Services
Many of the services offered for mental health and substance abuse treatment in Florida and within Palm Beach County are at least partially funded by the State of Florida or the county.39 Individuals may cover additional costs with health insurance coverage, private pay, or self-pay options and fundraising.
Some of the resources for behavioral health services for rehab in Palm Beach County include:
- Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition: provides education on substance abuse, prevention strategies, pill-drop locations, hotlines, and task forces dedicated to keeping the area drug-free.
- Palm Beach County (PBC) Counts: offers a web-based portal of information and resources regarding substance abuse in the area.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Palm Beach County: numerous resources, including treatment and recovery information, support groups, and educational programs for families and individuals battling mental illness in Palm Beach County.
- Mental Health Association (MHA) of Palm Beach County: nonprofit organization that focuses on community outreach, advocacy, and education, and provides information on treatment resources for mental illness.
- South Florida Coalition Alliance (SFCA): organization providing resources dedicated to preventing substance abuse and creating a drug-free community.
- DOH: can help with access to treatment providers, including free, low-cost, or state-funded options. One treatment provider is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) program, managed by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
- Palm Beach County drug court: works with citizen-defendants on intensive rehabilitation for at least one year, with the potential to extend the program’s timeline if the defendant experiences problems along the way.
- Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County (DAFPBC): a nonprofit resource that helps people get all kinds of drug addiction treatment – from science-based prevention programs to withdrawal management services to both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs.
- The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office: provides prevention support, including education classes on Good Samaritan laws in the county and state.
Outside of state-funded or state-provided options for addiction, there are options for treatment in palm beach. Treatment for mental health and substance abuse may include prevention methods, crisis management, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and recovery and aftercare services.
Therapy, counseling, education, life skills training, parenting classes, medications, medical detox, transitional housing, and support groups may all be part of a comprehensive behavioral health program.
These programs may be either private or public in nature and can be funded in a variety of ways. Different facilities may have varying levels of care and available programs, and some may be more comprehensive than others.
Recovery First Treatment Center in Hollywood, CA is one such treatment facility near West Palm Beach. The facility offers an all-encompassing approach treatment, including detox, inpatient rehab, and residential treatment
For other drug treatment centers near or in Palm Beach County, you can use the Behavioral Services Locator tool on the SAMHSA website. SAMHSA only includes treatment providers that meet its qualifications in the state of Florida and within Palm Beach County.
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) also operates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) program, which is the state authority on public mental health and substance abuse treatment in Florida. There are many private organizations and programs serving Palm Beach County residents as well.
Substance Abuse Treatment: Not Just for the Young
There is an increasing trend of older individuals needing treatment for substance abuse, dependency, and addiction. The baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, includes 76 million people now reaching late middle age.23 This generation may have abused mind-altering drugs at exponential rates during their youth, and they are now continuing or rediscovering these habits in their older age.
In 2013, accidental drug overdoses killed 12,000 baby boomers, and for the first time ever, overdose rates were higher among the older demographic than those in the 25-44 age bracket.31 If current trends continue, by the year 2020, over 5.5 million individuals over age 50 will need substance abuse treatment.23
These trends hold true in Florida and Palm Beach County as well. Almost 5,000 adults between the ages 51 and 60 in Florida were admitted to publicly funded treatment programs in 2011, which was indicates a 37% jump in just 10 years.33 Baby boomers in Florida represented 14% of the total treatment admissions, and these numbers may continue to grow in coming years.24 Fortunately, many treatment facilities are realizing this trend, and programs are being catered to this demographic specifically.
Mental Health in Palm Beach County
In 2010, close to 6,000 people in Palm Beach were discharged from the emergency room with a primary diagnosis of mental health issues, while just over 4,000 were discharged following a drug or alcohol diagnosis.21 Mental illness and substance abuse regularly co-occur, and both are considered to be behavioral health issues.
Around 10% of Palm Beach County residents in 2010 did not consider themselves to be in “good mental health.”21 Over 65% of those battling mental illness in the state of Florida may go untreated.25
The suicide rate in Palm Beach County is similar to the rate in the state of Florida at around 13 per 100,000 residents.21 Both substance abuse and mental illness may be contributors to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, which may be preventable with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.
- South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (SFIHIDTA). (n.d.). Narcotics/drug trafficking.
- Palm Beach County, FL. (n.d.). Municipalities.
- Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition. (2015). Drug abuse trends in Palm Beach County Florida: July 2015.
- United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). QuickFacts West Palm Beach city, Florida; Palm Beach County, Florida.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Substance use and mental disorders in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach MSA.
- Thompson, D. & CBS News. (2014). The states with the worst prescription painkiller problem.
- Morse, H. & The Florida Times Union. (2019). Report: heroin, fentanyl found in more deaths in Palm Beach County than anywhere in Florida.
- Morse, H. & The Palm Beach Post. (2019). This drug was the top killer in Palm Beach County—and Florida.
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. (n.d.). Drug trends.
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (2014). Drugs identified in deceased persons by Florida Medical Examiners, interim report, 2014.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). America’s need for and receipt of substance use treatment in 2015.
- Rothenbach Research and Consulting, LLC. & Florida Department of Children and Families Substance Abuse & Mental Health Program Office. (2018). 2018 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Monitoring the Future 2019 survey results: overall findings.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Emerging trends and alerts.
- Winston, H. & The Palm Beach Post. (2015). Expert: Flakka now entrenched in local drug scene.
- Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation. (2016). 2015-2016 Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Annual Report.
- Van Velzer, R. & Sun Sentinel. (2016). Amid opioid crisis, a look at Palm Beach County’s worst-affected cities.
- Moore, W. & WPTV West Palm Beach. (2017). Carfentanil: killer drug putting first responders at risk, dangerous to even inhale.
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (2015). Drugs identified in Deceased Persons by Florida medical examiners.
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (2016). Drugs identified in Deceased Persons by Florida medical examiners 2016 annual report.
- National Association of County and City Health Officials. (n.d.). Public health infrastructure and systems.
- Palm Beach County Department of Community Services. (2010). A report of health and human services in Palm Beach County based on key community indicators 2010.
- Elison, Z & The Wall Street Journal. (2015). Aging baby boomers bring drug habits into middle age.
- Isger, S. & The Palm Beach Post. (2012). Rates of drug use, addiction soar for baby boomers.
- Kam, D. & The Palm Beach Post. (2013). Experts: two-thirds of mentally ill in Florida go untreated.