SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida will use a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to fund a pilot program designed to help people recovering from opioid addiction re-enter the workforce through training as well as continue to receive recovery and support services.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the initiative at Seminole State College Tuesday speaking about how the coronavirus pandemic has fueled the opioid crisis because of unemployment and isolation. Overdoses are up 62% compared to last year, according to the governor.
The pilot program is called Support to Communities: Fostering Opioid Recovery through Workforce Development. The program will also provide training to workers in the mental health and other recovery-related fields to help them learn to better identify and respond to individuals with substance use disorders and prepare individuals in recovery to become peer counselors.
Katie Bowman, a senior relationship manager at Addition Financial, who recently celebrated her eighth year sober, was at the announcement and shared her story.
“The epidemic is really an addicts dream because we love isolation,” Bowman said. “We like to be alone with our shame and our guilt and our addiction and I’m so happy to hear of a program and a place where people can go to get that help (and) receive that connection that we need.”
Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said locally 76 people have died of an opioid-related overdoses and nearly 600 people have overdosed since Jan. 1. Opioid fatalities have increased by 15% this year, according to the sheriff.
“There is no question that the isolation and collateral unintended consequences of COVID-19 stop people who were in treatment,” Lemma said. “Those that had life problems before (the pandemic) only became more complicated as they lost their jobs and worried about the economy and all of these other things.”
Bowman said that finding gainful employment was a critical step to getting better because she had insurance through her employer and access to therapy and medicine treatments.
Employment “really helps with the kind of a lack of self worth you feel when you’re coming out of a long addiction so finding that purpose but also the benefits that I received once I got a good position, working full-time for therapy, medication-assisted therapy and having access to therapists and doctors, so that I could use some medications to help me get through those first few years,” Bowman said.
The DeSantis' said the program is designed to partner with communities including local colleges, CareerSource in Central Florida and law enforcement.
“This new pilot program is focused on connecting individuals who have been impacted by opioid abuse addiction and other substance use disorders, with the resources they need to recover and find meaningful employment in their communities,” Gov. DeSantis said, adding that the “funding will be used in areas across the state that were particularly affected by the opioid crisis, and will provide wraparound services including recovery and support services, career training and employment services.”
Chief Operating Officer of CareerSource Central Florida Mimi Coenen said the organization will be tracking the data of program participants to determine if it is successful over a four-year period.