Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday October 16th 2018


Outtakes—Pensacola Dreamland

By Rick Outzen

Last summer, a friend recommended that I read the book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” to understand the reemergence of heroin in Escambia County and its ties to prescription drug abuse.

I read dozens of stories about the opioid crisis in other parts of Florida but never connected it to Pensacola’s heroin trade. “Dreamland” filled in the gap. Journalist Sam Quinones wrote about Portsmouth, Ohio and showed how the widespread addiction to heroin began two decades ago as doctors freely dispensed Lortabs, Percocet, Oxycontin and prescription drugs to handle a variety of aches and pains.

Portsmouth became the pill mill capital of America. According to Quinones, the town had more pill mills per capita than anywhere else in the country. The doctors prescribed millions of pills a year. Eventually, state and federal officials cracked down, and heroin dealers began to fill the demand.

The book sent me on the quest to find a similar connection here. In 2014, I reported on the FDLE crime lab analyst whose addiction to Oxycodone, morphine and other opiates led to him stealing drugs he was supposed to test, but there was no link too heroin. However, I had begun to notice an increase in the arrests of heroin dealers.

When the Lakeview Center announced its State Targeted Opioid Program (STOP) for low-income people diagnosed with an opioid disorder, I reached out and was connected with Dr. Robert Althar of the Summit Group. Althar is a surgeon who has dedicated his life to helping patients who have become dependent on opiates.

“We’re treating patients who are dependent on opioids, and it completely ruins their life,” said Dr. Althar. “They lose their families. They lose their house. They lose their job.  They can’t function in a normal society.”

His Suboxone Clinic offers them hope with its medication-assisted treatment program that has medicine and therapy components.

STOP director Dustin Perry explained, “What the research has shown is the combination of the two provides some very powerful results even above and beyond what each of those is individually.”

Dr. Althar introduced me to Jake who helped me put a face to the crisis for my article, “Heroin Crisis Hits Home.” At 6 a.m. before he started his work shift, we talked about his addiction and the “easy slope” to heroin. He helped me understand the disease, but what he really wanted me to do, was give addicts hope.

There is so much more to tell about the opioid crisis, but Jake’s story and his recovery with the help of Dr. Althar is a good start.