Sarasota, Florida, is a city on the Gulf Coast side of the Sunshine State, just south of Tampa. The population is over 54,000 people, with a median age of 46 years old. The area has a long history, dating back to Native American settlement and Spanish exploration, but as a state, Florida was purchased in 1821 as a territory. In 1885, the town of Sarasota was heavily promoted in Scotland as a place to settle, leading to increased white European settlement. The Ringling Circus settled on Sarasota as their home city in 1927, and the area then became a mecca for art deco and modernist architecture between 1941 and 1966.
Like many other locations in Florida, thousands of residents of Sarasota struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs. Prescription opioid and benzodiazepine abuse ravaged the state until 2010, when state and federal law enforcement teamed up to stop “pill mills,” or medical offices that made money overprescribing pain medication and other addictive prescription drugs to patients without any oversight of how their condition was improving. Legislation kept the number of pill mills down with harsh penalties, and this has largely worked to stop prescription drug abuse.
Unfortunately, because of the large number of ports for both boats and airplanes in the Sunshine State, drug traffickers also bring in heroin, cocaine, meth, and synthetic drugs. Residents of Sarasota are at risk of becoming addicted to many dangerous substances.
• Alcohol: Residents of Sarasota County drink excessively at higher rates than many other counties in Florida. Excessive drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), among other types of high-volume, problematic drinking.
In Sarasota County, 17.9 percent of the adult population drinks excessively; this is less than Pinellas County (19.5 percent), Manatee County (18.8 percent), and Hillsborough County (19.3 percent). However, Sarasota County has a slightly higher rate of deaths from driving accidents involving alcohol compared to its surrounding counties: 33.8 percent of driving deaths involved alcohol in Sarasota County, compared to 30.5 percent in Manatee County, 25 percent in Charlotte County, and 28.7 percent in Pinellas County.
The 2018 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey (FYSAS) for Sarasota found that 18.5 percent of middle school students and 55.9 percent of high school students tried drinking alcohol at least once in their lifetimes; 4.6 percent of middle schoolers and 30.1 percent of high schoolers in Sarasota drank alcohol in the month before the survey, compared to Florida’s state average of 7.3 percent of middle schoolers and 21.2 percent of high schoolers.
• Opioids: Statistics from 2016 found that there are about 14.4 opioid overdose deaths for every 100,000 Florida residents. While states like West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio suffer much higher rates, this rate of opioid overdose death in Florida is still quite high.
While many people abuse heroin, the Florida Medical Examiners (FME) report found that prescription narcotics were still widely involved in overdose deaths. For example, in 2016, 70 overdose deaths involved oxycodone, which was the sole cause of death in five of those cases. Hydrocodone was involved in 30 deaths, although it was the sole cause of death in just one instance. Methadone, which is more often being prescribed as a painkiller, was involved in 34 deaths, of which it caused 2.
Morphine was reported as the cause of death in 77 instances, but heroin metabolizes to morphine soon after it is consumed, so this may also be associated with higher heroin abuse rates. There were 32 deaths involving heroin in Sarasota in 2016, all of which involved at least one other drug.
Illicitly produced fentanyl has been mixed with heroin, or sold instead of heroin, for a few years, and this has caused a national spike in opioid overdose deaths. This appears to also be the case in Sarasota. In 2016, there were 52 deaths involving fentanyl, although the drug was often found in combination with other substances. Fentanyl analogs, like carfentanil, are even deadlier and were involved in 126 deaths in Sarasota.
• Benzodiazepines: Potentially because of the legacy of pill mills, Sarasota residents struggle with high rates of prescription drug abuse, including abuse of benzodiazepines. Alprazolam (Xanax) is one of the most abused of these drugs, as reflected in the drug’s involvement in overdose deaths. In 2016, Sarasota medical examiners reported 111 total deaths involving alprazolam; the drug was found to be the cause of death in 65 cases and present in 46 cases. It was the only drug present in 10 deaths, and it was found in combination with at least one other substance in 101 deaths.
Diazepam (Valium) was also abused at high rates, with 26 deaths in 2016 involving the drug. It was the cause of death in 17 cases, but it was not the only drug present in any of the deaths. Instead, diazepam appears to be abused in combination with other drugs more often than alprazolam, although Xanax is more widely abused than Valium.
• Cocaine: Because Florida is one of the routes used by drug traffickers to bring illicit substances into the U.S., drugs that are not widely abused across the nation are more likely to be abused in places like Sarasota. For example, in 2016, there were 147 deaths involving cocaine, 125 of which involved multiple other drugs; this indicates a high rate of cocaine abuse in the city.
The 2018 FYSAS reported that 0.7 percent of middle schoolers and 4.4 percent of high schoolers in Sarasota tried cocaine at least once in their lifetimes. The high school student rate for all of Florida is 1.9 percent, suggesting that Sarasota high schoolers struggle with illicit substances at higher rates than their peers.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 7.9 percent of Florida’s residents, ages 12 and older, got treatment for alcohol abuse, while 92.1 percent did not; 12.6 percent of those in need of help overcoming illicit drug abuse got treatment, while 87.4 percent did not. If you live in Sarasota, it is important to know that there are treatment options available to help you.
Free supportive options include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), both of which have branches in Sarasota. In fact, one of AA’s central offices is in Sarasota.
Medical marijuana is legal in Florida, including in Sarasota, and it is tightly regulated by Florida’s Department of Health. Any use of marijuana outside of their specific rules and guidelines is abuse.
The Department of Health also offers a resource page for those seeking treatment help. Most substance abuse services, however, are managed through the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). This government department offers a range of treatment services, including:
• Detox services.
• Treatment, ranging from outpatient to residential rehabilitation.
• Recovery support, including aftercare.
DCF also offers prevention education services to reduce the risk of addiction among adults, children, and the community in general.
If government-based programs do not offer the services you seek, Psychology Today maintains lists of recovery and rehabilitation programs around the United States, including in Sarasota County, Florida. Many of these are upscale or luxury programs, and there are also several that offer affordable amenities. Most private programs accept insurance to offset the overall cost.
If you do not find what you need there, SAMHSA has an online treatment finder and associated hotline to help you locate the services you need.