Nestled in the Suncoast Region of Florida and dubbed the Sunshine City, St. Petersburg is not without its dark side.
Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in the state of Florida, and St. Petersburg is the largest city within Pinellas County. The 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for the Morton Plant Hospital (MPH) service area in Pinellas County asked respondents to rate issues within the community. Mental health and substance abuse concerns were ranked number one and two as the top-ranked issues presenting major problems within the community.
Alcohol, prescription drugs including opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and marijuana are common drugs of abuse in St. Petersburg.
Florida already has a high rate of drug overdose deaths — higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and rates are even higher in Pinellas County. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) reports that there were 247 drug overdose deaths in Pinellas County in 2017, which equals a rate of 26.9 deaths per 100,000 residents. This is higher than the rate of 24.6 fatalities per 100,000 Floridians and the national rate of 21.7 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents.
Treatment for drug abuse in St. Petersburg aims to prevent overdose deaths by educating the public and providers on the hazards of drug abuse and prescription drug misuse. Crisis and intervention services work to reverse overdoses and help residents find treatment services to manage drug abuse and addiction.
There are a variety of public and private drug abuse treatment providers in St. Petersburg. They all work to minimize drug abuse and overdose fatalities.
In Florida, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) Program oversees treatment providers offering drug abuse and addiction services. This is what defines a local Managing Entity (ME) for the different regions of the state.
St. Petersburg, as part of Pinellas County, falls under the SunCoast Region. The ME for this region is the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network (CFBHN), which contracts with local community-based, often nonprofit, agencies to provide public mental health and addiction treatment services to local residents. Services are offered regardless of financial status, ability to pay, or insurance coverage.
Public health care may be provided free of charge to eligible residents; they may accept Medicaid, Medicare, or private health insurance; or they may offer services based on a sliding scale.
Treatment services offered by local providers in St. Petersburg include education and prevention programs, crisis and intervention services, treatment and rehabilitation, transitional housing arrangements, and recovery support programs.
The following are drug abuse and addiction management resources in and around St. Petersburg:
Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the MPH service area in Pinellas County (73.2 percent) named mental health issues as their biggest health concern. Over half (58.1 percent) cited substance abuse as the biggest health concern in the region, according to the 2016 CHNA.
Alcohol is one of the main substances of abuse throughout the United States. In Pinellas County, just over 60 percent of residents were classified as current drinkers at the time of the CHNA, compared to a Florida average rate of 54.4 percent and a national rate of 59.7 percent.
The rate of age-adjusted deaths for liver disease and cirrhosis in Pinellas County is extremely high at 14.6 fatalities per 100,000 residents versus a Florida state rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 people and a national rate of 10.2 fatalities per 100,000 residents. CHNA respondents ranked substances of abuse in the following order for being the most problematic in the community:
The suicide rate in Pinellas County is extremely high. The Pinellas County Community Health Assessment (CHA) 2018 reports that in 2016, there were 214 suicides in Pinellas County — a rate of 19.6 suicides per 100,000 residents, which is much higher than the state rate of 14.1 suicides per 100,000 people.
Mental health and substance abuse concerns are high in St. Petersburg, and they often go hand in hand. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) publishes that more than 8 million Americans struggled with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2016.
Just as with the rest of Florida, St. Petersburg residents battle opioid abuse, high overdose rates, and addiction.
Florida has been known for its "pill mills" and doctors who were rampantly prescribing opioid painkillers without much oversight during the 2000s. Law enforcement efforts, increased awareness, and new regulations put a stop to much of this. The rate of prescription opioids being dispensed in Pinellas County peaked in 2010, the Pinellas County Opioid Task Force reports.
Prescription opioid overdose deaths did decrease as a result; however, fatalities related to heroin and illicit fentanyl increased. Heroin overdose deaths rose nearly 80 percent between 2014 and 2015, and overdose deaths involving fentanyl jumped 115 percent.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine, and it can be deadly in very small amounts. Fentanyl is often laced into other drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, counterfeit prescription drugs, and heroin. It is also used to cut and stretch other illicit white powder drugs.
There were 204 opioid overdose deaths in Pinellas County in 2016, half of which involved a prescription opioid. Nearly a third involved both a prescription drug and an illicit drug. In Pinellas County, one person dies at least every 32 hours from an opioid overdose.
There are several measures that local agencies in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, as well as statewide efforts, are using to manage opioid overdose, abuse, and addiction in the area.
Pinellas County has one of the highest rates of arrests for possession of drugs in the state. There were over 30,000 arrests between 2010 and 2015, which is a much higher rate than other bigger counties like Hillsborough, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Programs that offer diversion into rehab services through county drug courts aim to get individuals into treatment programs instead of sending them to jail.
On multiple levels, efforts are being made to address the substance abuse issue in St. Petersburg and Florida overall. Improved access to treatment, education and prevention, and aftercare programs all help to support recovery and manage drug abuse and addiction issues in the region.