In 2011, around 8 percent of Floridians used illicit drugs, which is near the national average. That means around 1.5 million Floridians used illegal drugs that year. Since Florida has such a large population, the scale of its drug problem is also large.
Unfortunately, many of those users are highly addicted. In 2013 and 2014, around 410,000 Floridians were dependent on or had abused illicit drugs within a year of being surveyed.
Heavy usage has serious consequences. Florida’s rate of drug-induced death in 2010 was higher than the national average. In 2010, drug use caused the deaths of 3,181 Floridians. That’s more people than died due to either car accidents or guns.
Like much of the United States, Florida has been hard-hit by an opiate addiction crisis. Thousands of Floridians have become dependent on prescription painkillers and heroin in the last decade. Rates of overdose and death from opiates have increased since 2010.
Florida also faces stubbornly consistent rates of cocaine and methamphetamine use. Cocaine is readily available in Florida, since the state is one of the major ports of entry for the drug. Meth users make their own supply of the drug in rural areas, or buy high-grade, imported versions of the drug in cities.
Clearly, many Floridians suffer from the awful effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Here are some of the unique factors that have brought so many Floridians to the brink.
There is an Alcohol & Drug Rehab in Jacksonville, Florida
The History of Drug Trafficking Through Florida
In 2015, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida (who represents the federal government in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida) and other high-ranking American officials met with the president of Colombia, in an effort to counter the operations of South American drug cartels trafficking drugs through the state.
The collaboration led to the indictments and arrests of 17 members of Los Urabenos (“Those from Uraba”), the most powerful drug smuggling neo-paramilitary group operating in Colombia. The leader of the group, Dario Antonio Usuga, remains at large; the State Department has issued a $5 million reward for his capture.
The Miami Herald opines that if the past is any indication, the hunt for Usuga will never end; not because Usuga himself will avoid capture, but regardless of his survival, incarceration, or death, another leader will replace him in Los Urabenos, and another group or cartel will replace Los Urabenos – with much bloodshed.
Such was the case during the 1970s and 1980s, when South American gangs made Miami their base of operations, both to sell drugs and kill rival organizations (activities that Miami Vice dramatized). The infamous Pablo Escobar – the so-called “King of Cocaine,” who was responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States – organized trafficking shipments, routes, and distribution networks in South Florida. He used the island of Norman’s Cay, 200 miles southeast of the Florida coast, as an intermediate point.
Escobar even owned a mansion in Florida, eventually seized by the US government in 1987. In 2014, the property was bought from a private owner for $9.65 million.
The Cocaine Godmother and the Cali Cartel
Escobar himself stepped into the void created by the assassination of Griselda Blanco, the “Cocaine Godmother” who pioneered the drug trade in Miami. On the run from Colombian authorities, Blanco settled in Florida and launched a cocaine ring so violent, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration created a taskforce to stop her. It is estimated that Blanco ordered the deaths of 250 people during her reign of terror.
Eventually, Blanco’s brutality forced her to go into hiding. She was arrested by the DEA in California in 1985, deported to Colombia in 2004, and shot to death in 2012.
Griselda Blanco started the Miami Drug Wars; Pablo Escobar became famous for it; and then came the Cali Cartel, founded by brothers Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela. The Cali Cartel made extensive use of the networks left to them by Escobar and his own cartel, employing them with such efficiency that the Cali Cartel was compared to Russia’s KGB and even the DEA, coming to be known as the biggest drug trafficking organization in the world.
At its peak, the Cali Cartel controlled more than 80 percent of the global cocaine trade that made over $7 billion a year. The US Justice Department called it “the most successful and prolific criminal enterprise in history,” but it was the Cali Cartel’s operations in Florida that led to their downfall.
In July 1990, US Customs and a Special Forces Unit of the US Army arrested Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, the head of a secret cell of the Cali Cartel, as he tried to import 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through Tallahassee, Florida. The following year, another cocaine shipment – this one through Miami, of 12,000 kilograms – was also intercepted, leading to more arrests and the gradual tightening of the noose around the Cali Cartel’s operations.
In 2006, after years of desperately trying to avoid extradition to the United States, brothers Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela were brought to America to face trial – in Miami. They pleaded guilty to charges of trying to import cocaine into the United States, forfeited $2.1 billion in assets, and are currently serving 30-year prison sentences.
However, the CNN article announcing the US declaration of victory over the Cali Cartel notes that the group has been replaced by other organizations, a point echoed by the Miami Herald.