South Florida is well-known for picturesque beaches, pleasant weather, and a lot of drug activity. Its proximity to South America, many seaports and transportation hubs, and drug cartel activity in the area make South Florida a hotspot for drug trafficking and distribution. These practices inevitably make drugs more readily available in the local markets, increasing drug abuse, overdose, and addiction rates in the area.

Drug abuse impacts families and entire communities. It is considered a major public health concern in Florida. In 2017, Governor Rick Scott declared a statewide public health emergency related to rampant opioid abuse and high rates of opioid overdose deaths and addiction in Florida.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that opioid overdose deaths in Florida nearly reached 3,000 in 2016, and rates were higher in Florida than national averages. South Florida residents struggle with high availability of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, prescription medications, and novel psychoactive substances.

Drug abuse services in South Florida typically begin with preventative measures and initiatives striving to educate the public and reduce problematic drug use. Treatment and recovery services, as well as preventative programs, are hosted by both public and private providers within a wide network of community-based providers in South Florida.

Resources for South Florida Drug Abuse Services

Drug abuse treatment services typically fall in to two main categories: public (federal, state, or county) or private (fee-for-service) programs. Both types of treatment options can provide detox, case management, assessments, crisis and intervention services, individual and group therapy, life skills training, relapse prevention programs, transitional housing, peer support groups, and recovery support through either inpatient or outpatient programs.

Public programs often receive funding through the federal or state government in the form of grants. These services are typically free or offered at a low cost to low-income individuals and those without private insurance. Nonprofit organizations offer free or low-cost treatment options and are able to do so through donations and grant funding. Private drug abuse treatment programs typically offer a high degree of privacy and confidentiality, and they often accept insurance coverage to cover the costs.

Public drug abuse treatment programs are overseen by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) Program, which indicates a Managing Entity (ME) for each specific area in Florida. For South Florida, there are several MEs, including the Broward Behavioral Health Coalition (BBHC) serving residents of Broward County; the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network (SEFBHN) serving residents of Palm Beach, Indian River, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, and Martin counties; and the South Florida Behavioral Health Network, Inc. (SFBHN), serving residents of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

doctor measuring heartbeat

Drug abuse services are broken down into three main areas: prevention and crisis intervention, treatment, and recovery services. The resource guide below provides details on South Florida drug abuse treatment options.

Prevention and crisis intervention services

  • 2-1-1 Broward: crisis and intervention hotline for residents of Broward County
  • 2-1-1 Palm Beach: serving the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County region with crisis services and resources
  • United Way of Miami-Dade: providing education and prevention programs as well as resources for healthy communities
  • United Way of Palm Beach County: offering local resources for Palm Beach County residents for healthy lifestyles
  • United Way of Broward County: helping to educate the public and promote stronger drug-free and healthy communities within Broward County
  • Palm Beach Substance Awareness Coalition (PBSAC): operating several local task forces aimed at drug and underage alcohol abuse prevention as well as treatment information and recovery support services
  • Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association (FADAA): influencing statewide policy to reduce stigma involving the disease of addiction and improve treatment resources and programs
  • Miami Beach Coalition: working to reduce underage drinking and drug use in the Miami area
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free Community of South Florida minimizing drug use in South Florida
  • Health Foundation of South Florida striving for healthy Southern Florida communities

Treatment programs and services

Recovery support programs and services

Common Drugs of Abuse in South Florida

Drugs like heroin and cocaine constitute major drug threats in South Florida. An average of 36 cocaine users died each month in Miami-Dade County in 2016, which is a 15-year high for cocaine-related deaths. Overdose fatalities involving both heroin and cocaine are prominent, and deaths related to heroin jumped 30 percent from 2015 to 2016 in Florida. Cocaine and heroin are making their way up into Florida across the southern border, often from Columbia, the Sun Sentinel reports.

Cocaine use and availability in Florida waned after peaking in the early 2000s, but the drug is making a comeback in South Florida in recent years. Alcohol, benzodiazepine medications (especially when combined with other drugs and/or alcohol), marijuana, and synthetic marijuana products are also drugs of concern in South Florida.

dead flowers on ground

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil are concerning in South Florida, as are new and novel synthetics, such as the drug Pink or U-47700, which was responsible for 11 Palm Beach County overdose deaths in 2016. Synthetic opioids can be manufactured in a lab, and they are often far more potent than natural opiates. They are cheaper, easier to get, and regularly used to cut other drugs like cocaine, heroin, counterfeit prescription medications, and even ketamine.

Synthetic opioids are highly unpredictable, especially if the user is unaware they are present, and they often lead to fatal overdose at low doses. In 2016, close to 1,700 people died of an opioid overdose in South Florida. The region is considered to be in the middle of an opioid abuse and overdose epidemic.

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Florida

A statewide initiative targeting the opioid crisis in Florida, the Opioid State Targeted Response Project aims to increase access to treatment services as well as enhance preventative measures and improve intervention and crisis services throughout the state. Measures such as the Controlled Substances Bill place limits on the length of time opioid prescriptions can be dispensed and require prescribers to become educated on potentially addictive opioid drugs. House Bill 21 is designed to stop opioid addiction from happening by combating opioid prescribing patterns that can become hazardous when unregulated.

Approximately 1,390 people died from a fentanyl overdose in 2016 while another 952 died from a heroin overdose. There were 723 oxycodone overdose fatalities and 245 overdose deaths involving hydrocodone in Florida.

Another measure aiming to control prescribing patterns of opioids and other controlled substances is Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program. Known as the Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program (E-FORCSE), it is a comprehensive system that requires prescribers to input the dispensing of controlled substances to track them.

There are numerous methods to dispose of unwanted medications to keep them from being diverted and abused. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection answers common questions on how to go about getting rid of these potentially hazardous substances. Many local pharmacies and police departments sponsor drug take-back days or have pill drop locations where South Florida residents can dispose of their medications safely and confidentially with no questions asked. There are also several needle collection programs throughout Florida that will accept sharps and paraphernalia to ensure these products do not end up on the street.

doctor taking blood pressure for patient

Another effort to combat opioid overdose fatalities involves dispensing naloxone and training people on how to use it. The opioid antagonist drug is used in the event of an overdose to overturn the effects and potentially save a life. Naloxone is available at local pharmacies to anyone in need, and it is often carried by first responders in Florida. Training on how to use the medication is offered through local police departments. Additionally, a Good Samaritan law ensures that anyone trying to save someone’s life when administering naloxone, or even when reporting an overdose, is safe from criminal liability.

Florida has been granted federal funding, as published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to form the Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) system. This initiative will collect data to combat the public health crisis involving opioid abuse.

The local coalitions and nonprofits listed above also use prevention methods to educate the public on potentially dangerous practices involving drugs and alcohol. The goal is to reduce drug misuse and abuse in South Florida.

Further Readings:


Gov. Scott Directs Statewide Public Health Emergency For Opioid Epidemic. (May 2017). Rick Scott 45 Governor of Florida.