Sober Living in South Florida – Does the High Rate of Illicit Drugs Make It Harder to Stay Clean?

Does the High Rate of Illicit Drugs Make It Harder to Stay Clean in FL? from Janeen Johnally on Vimeo.

On July 5, 2007, 40-year-old Cheryl Risse was struck by a freight train in Pompano Beach by North Dixie Highway. Risse was jogging by the train tracks and listening to her music player when a locomotive struck her, severing both of her legs. Risse’s doctor referred her to a pain clinic to obtain prescription drugs to cope with the emotional trauma, as a result from the accident.

Risse, who has battled heroin addiction since she was 17, was actually sober for over a year prior to the accident. Once she was referred to the pain clinic however, Risse’s easy access to prescription drugs caused her relapse into addiction.

Throughout Florida, pain clinics provide individuals with easy access to prescription drugs. Pain clinics are one of the many factors that have contributed to the high drug rates throughout Florida. Quality of sobriety living, club drugs, and transients are other factors that could pose major threats to individuals struggling to maintain sobriety living in South Florida.

Pill Mills

According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times, Florida once had the highest amount of pill mills in the country. CBS News defines a pill mill as “a doctor, clinic, or pharmacy that is prescribing or dispensing powerful narcotics inappropriately or for non-medical reasons.”

Patients are not required to take a psychical exam or even provide medical records to obtain prescription drugs from these facilities. This easy access to prescription drugs makes it easier for individuals to abuse opioids, prescription painkillers. Consequently, prescription drug abuse became a major area of concern in Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that the over prescription of opioids had a positive correlation with overdose deaths. After the regulation of pill mills in 2010, the drug overdose death rate in Florida dropped more than 16%.

Reports however show that pill mill regulation made it difficult for those in desperate need of pain medication, like the chronically ill and disabled, to obtain proper pain relief. Even more so, heroin overdose deaths began to increase after the decline in prescription overdose deaths according to an article published in Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly.

2015 Florida Drug Statics - Source: USNoDrugs.com

2015 Florida Drug Statics – Source: USNoDrugs.com

“There is not enough evidence to conclude that the heroin increases are causally related to increased regulation of prescription opioids. However there is evidence that heroin use follows opioid use. That relationship demands that we get control of inappropriate opioid prescribing and use so that there are fewer people addicted in the first place,” said Leonard Paulozzi, Medical Director (M.D.) of CDC.


Mental health and substance abuse expert Hanna McGoey has worked with individuals to help overcome drug addiction and alcoholism for 29 years. McGoey identified various issues that contribute to substance abuse rates in South Florida such as transients, club drugs, and pill mills.

Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) Gail Horton has worked with individuals battling addiction for 25 years. In a recent interview, Horton stated that the high rate of transients in Florida make it difficult to keep track of who is living in your neighborhood. As a result, drug abuse in the home often goes unseen. Horton believes that preventing addiction starts in the home and collaborating with neighbors to recognize drug abuse in local communities.

“Having a real revolution that does not come from law enforcement or closing the boarders but from families saying I don’t want my child to grow up that way and I want my neighbors to join with me on that. If we don’t have that, then all we have is this isolated thing that we have right now.”

Halfway Houses

Other issues that affect the substance abuse rate in Florida are the conditions of halfway houses. Halfway houses are transitional facilities to help recovering addicts, prisoners, and others reintegrate into society. This form of sober living provides residents with food, shelter, aid in employment and maintaining sobriety. Despite the obvious benefits for individuals struggling with sobriety to live in a halfway house, they may be exposed to some unforeseen issues.

According to Prison Legal News, a magazine that reports on a prisoner’s rights and criminal justice issues, Florida officials fail to properly screen individuals operating halfway houses and other reentry facilities. Even more so, there are thousands of halfway houses throughout Florida and many of them look like regular houses, making it difficult to keep track of them.

Despite some reports on the quality of sober living, the Discovery House Inc halfway house in Delray Beach, Florida is sanitary and spacious.

Despite some reports on the quality of sober living, the Discovery House Inc halfway house in Delray Beach, Florida is sanitary and spacious.

“Incredibly, state officials do not require reentry facilities to be licensed, thus it is impossible to track such incidents. In fact, without licensing, there is no way to know how many halfway houses are actually operating in Florida,” said Prison Legal News Journalist Derek Gilna. Other issues with some Florida halfway houses included drug-test frauds in which residents are billed for excessive drug testing according an article published in Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly.

Recovering alcoholic John Suto manages Discovery House Inc. in Delray Beach, Florida. Although Suto’s halfway house appears clean and comfortable, he admits he has witnessed halfway houses in Delray Beach that are quite the opposite. “I have lived in halfway houses where you would not want to walk in there and sleep,” said Suto. Suto also admitted that in some halfway house residents could take drugs and drink alcohol as long as they paid their rent.

sober house

Recovering alcoholic John Suto manages 3 halfway houses in Delray Beach, Florida.

Club Drugs

The biggest party area in South Florida is Miami. 25-year-old Edwin Jacques promoted for clubs, predominantly in Miami, for 8 years. Nightclubs pay club promoters to promote events and parties in order to receive a larger turnout for the venue. As said by Jacques, individuals spending large amounts of money on alcohol in Miami clubs are treated like royalty.


PLANTATION, FL – Edwin Jacques’ former lifestyle as a club promoter allows him easy access to weed and alcohol.

“There is a plethora of alcohol, they celebrate that. They stop the music and have sparklers on people who bought expensive bottles like Moet or Ace of Spades,” said Jacques about the Miami nightlife.

The majority of alcohol consumption takes place in VIP. In many nightclubs, women can get into VIP free merely by their looks and dress code. On the other hand, men are often required to pay to get into VIP or buy a bottle of alcohol. At a nightclub, bottles of alcohol are much more expensive than at a convenience store.

SUNRISE, FL - Alcohol is readily available at most convenience stores throughout the United States.

SUNRISE, FL – Alcohol is readily available at most convenience stores throughout the United States.

“Guys see all these girls in VIP and wonder how they can get in. [Bottles can cost] you $350 plus tax and tip. So it’s like $420 for a bottle that’s really $30 at a liquor store because you are paying for the experience,” said Jacques.

A more recent trend in South Florida nightlife is club drugs. According to USNoDrugs.com, a National directory of treatment centers for addiction and alcoholism, Molly or ecstasy (MDMA) “is the most readily available dangerous drug throughout Florida.”

Despite the accessibility of illicit drugs in South Florida, recovering addicts John Suto and Adam Nooe both agreed that maintaining sobriety is not difficult in South Florida because they have both overcome the desire to use. Nooe, who has battled drug addiction in Ohio, Florida, and Illinois, stated despite the various demographics of these states, he always knew where to get high.

POMPANO BEACH, FL - Recovering drug addict Adam Nooe often reads unrequired passages in sobriety books to get a better understanding of his God.

POMPANO BEACH, FL – Recovering drug addict Adam Nooe often reads unrequired passages in sobriety books to get a better understanding of his God.

“A drug addict is going to find drugs and alcohol no matter what. I always say where there is a will there is a way. If you have a will and want to go use drugs, you are going to go do it,” said Nooe.

Before moving to South Florida, Suto battled alcoholism in New Jersey. Like Nooe, Suto believes that location does not have an effect on a recovering addict’s ability to maintain sobriety. “Just because [drugs and alcohol] are around, I don’t think it makes a difference. If an addict wants it, he’s going to find it: He can live on an island with one coconut and trust me, he’s going to figure out how to get high off that coconut,” said Suto.

Although multiple sources provided in this article have exposed how the availability of illicit drugs in south Florida make it easier for someone to experiment with drugs, it appears that the will power to resist drugs and alcohol are stronger than the presence of drugs.


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