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Tampa, Florida, is one of the largest cities in the Sunshine State. The population is 369,028 as of 2016, and the median age is about 35 years old – a little younger than many cities in Florida. Nestled in Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast, Tampa is also one of the largest metro areas in Hillsborough County. With so many people, Tampa has thousands of residents who struggle with addiction and substance abuse.
The metro area of Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg was measured for rates of substance abuse among people ages 12 and older by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) between 2005 and 2010.. Survey results for that time period found:
Between 2014 and 2015, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths involving prescription drugs of some kind. In 2014, 304 people died from prescription drugs; in 2015, that number rose to 360. About one-third of those deaths appear to be accidental in both years.
According to the NSDUH Metro Brief for this area, 326,000 people in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Clearwater ages 12 and older abused at least one illicit drug in the year before the survey. Marijuana was the most popular drug of abuse, at 10 percent of those reporting substance abuse; prescription painkiller abuse represented 4.6 percent of illicit substance abuse. Of those who abused any illicit drug, 188,000 people were classified as having a substance use disorder.
The Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey (FYSAS) keeps track of middle and high school students’ patterns of drug and alcohol abuse. The FYSAS divides statistics among counties – Tampa is in Hillsborough County, with 1,426 students from 6th to 12th grade participating in the FYSAS. The Gulf Coast area’s middle and high school students were both in Level 2 for self-reported alcohol consumption in the past month. For middle schoolers, this was 8.4 percent, with 2.3 percent admitting binge drinking in the past month; and for high schoolers, this was 24.1 percent, with 10 percent reporting at least one episode of binge drinking. High school students in Hillsborough County were also among Florida’s least likely to ride with a drunk driver, with 14.8 percent reporting this activity in the past month. Hillsborough County high schoolers were a little more likely to drive themselves after drinking, with 5.6 percent of students reporting this activity in the past month.
Cigarettes are falling out of fashion among adolescent and young adults all over the nation, and Hillsborough County reflects that trend. Both middle and high school students in the county ranked in FYSAS’s Level 1: 0.6 percent of middle school students smoked while 2.9 percent of high school students smoked. Vaporizer products like e-cigarettes and marijuana oil are less popular in Hillsborough County compared to other places in Florida: 3.8 percent of middle school students reported using vapes in the past month. These items became more popular among high school students, with 10.8 percent reporting use of these devices in the past month.
Hillsborough County students appear to have high rates of marijuana abuse compared to the rest of the state, although the percentages reflect trends in the rest of the country. Only 3.6 percent of the county’s middle school students reported abusing marijuana in the past month; 17.9 percent of high schoolers abused the drug in the past month. The MTF survey for 2016found that marijuana abuse rates among 8th and 10th graders across the country declined between 2015 and 2016; however, rates remained steady among 12th grade students, with 36 percent occasionally abusing the drug and about 6 percent struggling with daily abuse. Although high schoolers in Hillsborough County were not likely to get in a car with a driver who had been drinking, these students were very likely, compared to the rest of the state, to get in a car with a driver who had been abusing marijuana; 25.4 percent of high schoolers in the area reported this dangerous activity in the past month. About 11.2 percent of those students reported driving themselves after abusing marijuana.
Few Hillsborough County middle school students abused other illicit drugs, although the rates still reflect a potential problem in the age group. About 1.5 percent of middle schoolers reported abusing prescription painkillers; 1 percent abused other depressants, including benzodiazepines; and 1.2 percent abused over-the-counter drugs, including dextromethorphan-based cough syrup. By high school, though, these numbers rose significantly: 2.4 percent of high school students reported prescription painkiller abuse, 3.2 percent reported abusing other depressant drugs, and 2.3 percent reported OTC drug abuse.
In the Tampa-Ft. Lauderdale-Clearwater MSA, about 24.5 percent of residents ages 12 and older smoked cigarettes while 23.2 percent experienced at least one episode of binge drinking. Estimates from 2016 show that Hillsborough County represented 33.4 percent of driving deaths involving alcohol; 19.8 percent of problem drinking in Florida; and 16.9 percent of adults who smoked.
The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reported that Hillsborough County represented most of the state’s 2010 drunk driving convictions, at 3,256 total. The Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Coalition (HCADA) found in 2011, the county ranked number one in Florida for alcohol-related fatalities. Although DUI arrests decreased that year, there were still more in Hillsborough than anywhere else in the state.
Hillsborough County has higher rates of smoking and problem drinking than the rest of the state, although rates began to decline in 2009. In 2010:
These rates were all higher than Florida state averages.
Like other cities across the US, Tampa has experienced a surge in people struggling with opioid addiction since 2001. Most people struggling with opioids in Florida began abusing these drugs after receiving a prescription for oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, or a similar substance. Since the state has cracked down on prescription drug abuse, four out of five people who were struggling with prescription painkillers have reported that they switched to heroin, as it is less expensive and easier to acquire.
Prescription painkillers were still a leading cause of overdose deaths in 2015, according to Florida’s medical examiners.
Methadone also led to a significant number of overdose deaths in 2015: 42 people total died with methadone in their bodies, with 32 of those deaths being caused by methadone. Eleven people had just methadone in their body when they suffered an overdose. Because methadone is becoming a more common prescription painkiller rather than a drug to taper people off opioid addiction, it is more prevalent among low-income older adults: 13 overdose deaths involved people over the age of 50, and 11 overdose deaths involved people between the ages of 35 and 50.
People in Tampa appear to be more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than heroin, even if heroin is cheaper or easier to get. In 2015, the city experienced 35 overdose deaths involving heroin; none of those were from heroin alone, although 33 were caused by heroin with other drugs present in the body. Most people in Tampa who struggle with heroin addiction and overdose are between 35 and 50. In 2015, 13 of the overdose deaths involved this age group.
Although the city does not appear to have a large problem with heroin compared to many other cities in the state, it is rapidly becoming a bigger problem. In 2014, 22 people died from a heroin overdose, and in 2013, only three people died from a heroin overdose. Tampa may be slightly behind the national trend, but it is catching up.
Fentanyl has become a large problem among people struggling with opioid abuse across the country; the drug is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, so it is also stronger than heroin. Unfortunately, it has been found mixed with heroin, or sold in place of heroin, in states all over the US. Surprisingly, Tampa did not experience many fentanyl overdose deaths in 2015 compared to other cities in Florida.
People who struggle with benzodiazepine abuse tend to mix these CNS depressants with other drugs, including alcohol and opioids. This increases the high associated with these drugs, but it also greatly increases the risk of overdose. In Tampa, this pattern represents an urgent problem and has led to hundreds of deaths in the past several years.
Medical examiners report that alprazolam was involved in 127 deaths in 2015.
Benzodiazepines & Addiction
Older adults tend to struggle with alprazolam more than younger people, with 21 overdose deaths among people ages 35-50.
Diazepam, or Valium, is also a problematic benzodiazepine in Tampa. Thirty people died with diazepine in their body, and 16 of those deaths were caused by diazepam. All the overdoses involved other drugs; diazepam was never the only drug present at the time of death
People between the ages of 35 and 50, and people over the age of 50, appear to struggle with diazepam equally; seven people in both age groups died from an overdose involving diazepam, with other drugs present.
Although many cities in Florida experience worse rates of cocaine abuse, including polydrug abuse involving cocaine, Tampa does have a large problem with this dangerous stimulant. In 2015, 84 people died from a drug overdose with cocaine involved; of those, 28 died because of cocaine, 21 of which involved cocaine by itself. Cocaine is more often involved in a pattern of polydrug abuse, as 63 overdose deaths involved cocaine in combination with other drugs.
Shockingly, most people in Tampa who died from an overdose involving cocaine were over the age of 50. However, the overall number of overdose deaths involving cocaine in Tampa appears to be decreasing. Peak years were 2006, 2007, and 2008, and the number of people dying from cocaine abuse has been decreasing since then.
The Mental Health Substance Abuse Commission Report of the States (MHSAC) found that Florida meets 19 percent of residents’ needs for treatment involving substance abuse and addiction problems.
Florida has some of the toughest DUI laws in the US and little leniency for marijuana, although many states are passing medical or recreational legislation to control this substance. Like most of the US, Florida has zero-tolerance laws around underage drinking and driving and a possible fine of up to $9,000 for adult drunk driving. Possession of marijuana can result in up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Because Florida began the drug court movement in the 1980s, it is possible to have these penalties reduced or removed by entering a treatment program through this court. This may include education at a Tampa Traffic Law & Substance Abuse Education Course School.
DOH for the state of Florida is a great resource for detox and rehabilitation options in Tampa or other locations in the state. A program administered with state and federal healthcare dollars is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) program through the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), which offers a recovery residence, referrals, and credentials for treatment programs. In addition to the SAMH program, DCF keeps a list of treatment providers all across the state, categorized by city; as they are listed in alphabetical order, Tampa’s treatment listings begin on page 78 of this 89-page document.
Volunteers of America (VOA) has support group meetings, detox, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment available to Tampa residents. Although it is religious-based, this treatment is free or low-cost for those who desperately need help.
Psychology Today maintains an extensive list of drug abuse and addiction treatment providers in Tampa, Florida. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a simple online search tool for behavioral health treatment, which includes detox, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, programs that use medication assistance like buprenorphine, and more.