Rehab centers play an important role in rehabilitating those affected by America’s growing heroin and opioid epidemic. Lee County offers numerous safe, secure and supportive treatment centers for those battling addiction. The Fort Myers area also features support groups for individuals in recovery.
Thomas’s Living Sober House is a clean, safe and sober living environment for those overcoming drug or alcohol addiction. The Fort Myers halfway house is located near churches, grocery stores and The Salvation Army. This sober housing option strives to help people stay sober after treatment.
The Nextep provides safe, sober living environments for adults recovering from addiction. Nextep assists residents with gaining self-confidence, fostering relationships and securing employment. The community uses a four-stage process teach residents to establish structure, maintain commitments and live healthy lives.
For those looking to stay in the Fort Myers area after treatment, there are several organizations that connect people in recovery with employment opportunities.
The Lee County Federal Drug Court Program gives people with a felony drug charge the opportunity to treat their substance abuse problem and find employment. The goals of the program are to get people off drugs and alcohol and to reduce drug use and recidivism rates.
CareerSource Southwest Florida comprises workforce development boards that connect professionals with employment and training opportunities. The southwest Florida board provides individuals with the resources and educational opportunities needed to grow and succeed in their careers. It also hosts hiring events and workshops where job seekers can connect with nearby businesses. The Youth Education Job Readiness program provides low-income people aged 14 to 21 with the skills, training and educational opportunities needed to overcome barriers to employment.
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Substance abuse in Lee County is not uncommon. High school students, senior citizens and people from all socio-economic backgrounds have abused alcohol and numerous drugs. A report by the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida details statistics on drug and alcohol abuse in Fort Myers.
Alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs were the most prevalent substances used among Lee County students in 2014, according to the 2016 Lee County Substance Abuse Prevention Community Needs Assessment.
Substance abuse among Lee County youth has resulted in hundreds of arrests from 2011 to 2014.
In 2014, more than 13 percent of middle schoolers and 25 percent of high schoolers in Lee County reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. Overall, 20 percent of middle or high school students in the county used alcohol in the past 30 days.
More than 70 percent of Lee County students in 2014 reported they thought it would be wrong to smoke marijuana. Nearly 90 percent of students reported that their parents think it would be wrong to smoke marijuana, and more than 68 percent of students reported that their friends would disapprove of marijuana smoking.
“The data is showing us that alcohol abuse is going down among children, but we’re seeing an increase in marijuana use because kids think it’s safe,” Deborah Comella, executive director of the Lee County Coalition for Drug-Free Southwest Florida, told DrugRehab.com. “Overall, drug and alcohol use among kids is going down — but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some issues.”
Many Lee County adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system battle drug or alcohol abuse:
|39%||of arrested youth in Lee County reported alcohol use.|
|77%||of Lee County youth on probation reported using drugs.|
|34%||of Lee County youth on probation reported having a drug problem.|
|16%||of Lee County youth on probation said substance abuse contributed to their crime, and 10 percent said drug or alcohol abuse affected their education.|
In 2014, nearly 80 percent of children and teens who sought substance abuse treatment in Lee County attended a rehab facility for marijuana abuse, a rate much higher than admissions for other substances. Seven percent of children and adolescents sought treatment for alcohol problems, and 1 percent attended rehab for heroin, oxycodone or cocaine abuse.
Drug and alcohol abuse has also impacted Lee County adults. According to the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, the most popular substance among this demographic is alcohol, followed by heroin, marijuana and opioids.
Among Lee County adults admitted to treatment in 2014:
|27%||were affected by alcohol.|
|27%||were affected by heroin.|
|16%||were affected by marijuana.|
|10%||were affected by opioids other than heroin.|
In 2014, nearly 24 percent of adults aged 18–44 reported heavy or binge drinking in the past 30 days. More than 17 percent of people aged 45–64 and 12.5 percent of people 65 and older reported engaging in these behaviors. More men reported heavy or binge drinking than women.
Among Lee County residents, non-Hispanic black adults engaged in heavy or binge drinking in the past 30 days at higher rates than Hispanic and non-Hispanic white adults.
Over the last decade, drinking and driving has been a problem in Lee County. The area saw 2,269 DUI citations in 2014, per the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida.
Among students who drove a vehicle in the past 30 days after consuming alcohol, 6.9 percent were female and 3.9 percent were male. Overall, 5.6 percent of students reported engaging in such behaviors.
Also in 2014, more than 19 percent of students in Lee County reported riding in a vehicle in the past 30 days with a driver who had been drinking. That is a higher figure than the state average.
A 2014 operation led to the arrest of 31 people in North Fort Myers. The investigation, called “Operation Sundown,” netted 28.4 grams of heroin, 17.3 grams of crack cocaine, hundreds of prescription pills, various drug paraphernalia and $1,772.
In 2016, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office seized more than $1.3 million worth of heroin and cocaine in Bonita Springs. The eight-month operation, dubbed “Taqueria Takedown,” resulted in seven arrests.
Heroin use has been problematic for southwest Florida. Just ask Michelle Johnson.
Johnson was raised in Naples, Florida. As a child, she had a loving and nurturing mother. Nobody would have predicted she would battle addiction as an adult. Then she graduated high school and began using marijuana and ecstasy. After Johnson gave birth to her daughter, her doctor prescribed Percocet. She later became addicted to the drug and began drinking heavily.
When her doctor cut off her Percocet prescription, she turned to heroin. During this time, she also battled homelessness. After the birth of her son and the death of her mother, she sought treatment.
“I made the decision I was going to come up here and get clean, and I wasn’t going back until I was,” she told Gulfshore Life magazine.
Lee Memorial Health System has seen a rise in heroin overdoses since 2010. Two-thirds of patients being treated at Lee Memorial’s ERs are white males with an average age of 31.
Lee Memorial emergency departments saw an additional 165 cases involving opioid poisoning in 2014. That year, there were nearly three times as many heroin-related emergency department cases as there were alcohol-related cases.
No single person, organization or institution can defeat substance abuse. It takes a community effort. Government-run initiatives and nonprofits in Lee County work to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among residents. These programs include educational initiatives and media campaigns. Volunteer opportunities for nearby residents are also available.
Each year, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office hosts Operation Medicine Cabinet, a part of its pharmaceutical take-back program. Through this initiative, local residents can dispose of their old, unused or unwanted prescription medications at approved destinations. However, needles and other sharp objects are not accepted.
The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida may be the most well-known, influential and comprehensive drug prevention organization in the Fort Myers area.
Since 1989, the coalition has dedicated itself to reducing drug and alcohol abuse among Lee County youths. It accomplishes this through social events, educational initiatives and elaborate media campaigns that educate the community on the dangers of substance abuse.
“We do billboards, social and traditional media,” Comella told DrugRehab.com. “Our goal is to reach as many people as we can.”
The organization also reaches people through large-scale events. The biggest of these events is Drug House Odyssey, a walk-through play that describes the consequences of drinking and driving. Hundreds of students attend this annual event, which is free and open to the public.
“The goal [of these events] is to help kids make good life choices,” said Comella.
“The goal [of these events] is to help kids make good life choices,” said Comella.
The organization also hosts the Busey Bank Run for Prevention, a 5K run held each fall. Runners are encouraged to dress in costumes, and bouncy houses are available for kids. The organization uses the proceeds to support its educational and marketing initiatives.
The coalition hosts other drug prevention activities, events and educational initiatives in Lee County throughout the year, including Lock Your Meds, which teaches adults and senior citizens the importance of safely securing their medications.
The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida is not a treatment organization. However, its representatives do connect people with addictions and those in recovery with necessary resources.
“We care about individuals, families and kids, and we are inspired by them,” said Comella.
Education is important in creating a drug-free community. Comella says parents can do their part by teaching young children the consequences of substance abuse.
“We need parents to talk to their kids [about drug use], beginning when they are three or four years old,” she said.
The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida encourages nearby residents to volunteer to help with a special event. Visit drugfreeswfl.org for more information.
The Juvenile Assessment Center of Lee County is dedicated to helping at-risk youths overcome numerous problems, including substance abuse. Community agencies offer counseling, truancy intervention and evidence-based therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-step programs. The goal of the center is to reduce recidivism and increase self-esteem and moral reasoning in troubled individuals.
The Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers program allows Lee County residents to provide police with leads and information that can be used to solve crimes in the area. The program has proved beneficial: Crime Stoppers received nearly 5,000 calls leading to 778 arrests in 2011.
The Lee County Injury Prevention Coalition works to create a safe Lee County community. The organization aims to prevent injury, disability and death through advocacy, education, legislation and partnerships. The coalition also works to raise awareness for underage drug and alcohol abuse.
PACE Center for Girls in Lee County strives to give at-risk girls an opportunity to succeed. Vicki Burke started the nonprofit in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1985. Today, PACE operates 19 centers throughout Florida, serving 2,000 girls each year.
The organization provides counseling and education for girls aged 12–17.Many girls who attend PACE deal with familial neglect, emotional abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse.
PACE Lee has served more than 37,000 girls since its inception and about 525 students since 2007. Shelby Reed was one of those students. She shared her story on PACE Lee’s website.
Reed was a high school junior when she attended PACE in 2013. Before attending, she battled body image problems and engaged in risky behaviors. Nearly one year after joining, she held a 3.5 GPA, was elected student body president and received a scholarship from Hodges University.
“When I first started at PACE, I was the girl that was hiding a lot. I did not have a very pleasant past,” said Reed.
Eventually, she learned the benefits of changing her behaviors.
“I learned to cope with my past through the help of my counselor. I learned from different staff members that our past doesn’t define who we become; my past motivated me to be something different,” she said.
Twenty-six percent of PACE Lee participants used drugs and alcohol before admission. Within a year of leaving, 94 percent of girls had no involvement with the juvenile justice system.
Educational institutions in the Fort Myers area care about the well-being of their students. Lee County schools and colleges employ various substance abuse prevention initiatives that educate students on the effects, dangers and lifelong consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.
The School District of Lee County offers an array of substance abuse prevention services. The district participates in the Red Ribbon Campaign, the oldest and largest substance abuse prevention program in the United States.
The Norm Project challenges misconceptions surrounding drug and alcohol abuse, such as the fallacy that most Lee County teens drink alcohol or do drugs. Talk15 is a marketing campaign dedicated to educating parents and students on the dangers of substance abuse. Through the G.R.A.M.P.A. Cops program, retired police officers provide Fort Myers elementary school students with drug prevention and safety tips.
Florida Gulf Coast University implements numerous programs to help students avoid substance abuse. For example, iDrinkSmarter is a mobile app students can use to monitor their blood alcohol content.
Eagles MOVE is a program that encourages students to be active and make healthy lifestyle choices. The TIPS workshop teaches students how to recognize signs of intoxication and de-escalate dangerous situations involving alcohol. The Peers CARE program trains undergraduates to educate their peers on health topics such as alcohol, drugs, nutrition and stress.
The college also offers a suicide prevention hotline, substance abuse counseling and a free resource area, which provides brochures on alcohol, drugs and other public health topics.
The Drug Prevention Program of HU aims to protect the well-being of students, faculty and staff through drug education and counseling. Hodges University increases substance abuse awareness through health articles and drug awareness seminars run by community leaders. The university’s student handbook outlines its substance abuse policy and provides information on various drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens.
Florida SouthWestern State College hosts informational programs on drug and alcohol awareness. The Office of Counseling provides free substance abuse and mental health services, including assistance with eating and body image disorders.
Students can receive 10 individual therapy sessions per academic year. The college’s website provides health information related to prescription drug overdose, substance abuse and mental health education.
Numerous national organizations offer information, education and support for those battling addiction and individuals in recovery.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is dedicated to educating the public on the causes and consequences of substance abuse and addiction. The organization conducts scientific research on the effects and social implications of drug and alcohol abuse. Its website offers information and statistics on various drugs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aims to protect Americans from health, safety and security threats. The organization informs people with up-to-date information, statistics and press releases on various public health concerns, including substance abuse.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism supports research on the individual and societal impact of alcohol use and abuse. The organization uses research and statistics to inform health care providers, policymakers and the public. NIAAA is the world’s largest funder of alcohol research.
SMART Recovery is an international nonprofit that uses community meetings and online resources to help people abstain from addictive behaviors. The organization uses a four-point program that teaches people to build and maintain motivation, cope with urges, live a balanced life and manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
The World Health Organization is an international organization dedicated to building a healthier future for people around the world. WHO aims to combat various diseases, including drug addiction. The organization accomplishes its goals by assessing global health trends on substance abuse and monitoring health consequences and government policy.
Mayo Clinic works to provide care to patients through integrated clinical practice, education and research. The organization also strives to inspire hope in patients while respecting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Mayo Clinic has a location in Jacksonville, Florida.