The Opioid Crisis in Ponce
Drug addiction is a serious problem in Puerto Rico, where 11.5% of the population suffers from some form of substance abuse disorder. The opioid crisis has brought addiction and suffering into the lives of many people in Ponce and throughout Puerto Rico. In Ponce, opioid addiction often begins with addiction to prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, and sometimes causes people to experiment with heroin or with synthetic opioids which are illicitly-manufactured.
From 1999 to 2013, the rates of prescription for most opioids rose drastically in Puerto Rico. The abuse of any opioid may result in an overdose, which can cause death. In 2016, 72 Puerto Ricans died from an opioid overdose. In 2017, 600 Puerto Ricans suffered an overdose on fentanyl, an opioid which is even more potent than heroin, and 68 of the overdoses were fatal. There were at least 40 lethal overdoses on fentanyl in Puerto Rico in 2018, although the Puerto Rican government has been unable to adequately collect data on overdoses after Hurricane Maria. The number of fatal overdoses in Puerto Rico in 2018 is almost certainly higher. Fentanyl is still legally prescribed and sold in Ponce and in Puerto Rico, and the territorial government currently restricts the availability of the medication naloxone (also known as Narcan), which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and can save lives.
Drug Trafficking in Ponce
Many drug traffickers smuggle cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs through Puerto Rico to the United States mainland. According to the Puerto Rican government, 90% of illegal drugs which traffickers bring into Puerto Rico do not remain on the island, yet selling drugs in Puerto Rico still yields traffickers about $366 million in revenue every year. Ponce has a significant market for illegal drugs which generates about $44 million in annual profit, according to police estimates.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Border Patrol often work with local authorities in Ponce to arrest those who are attempting to bring illicit and dangerous substances into Puerto Rico. In 2018, Puerto Rican police confiscated a supply of illegal drugs in Ponce worth more than $23 million in a single day. Earlier that same year, police in Puerto Rico arrested three drug traffickers in Ponce who were conspiring to distribute a supply of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana which was worth about $11,000.
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Ponce and the Effects of Hurricane Maria
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, Ponce suffered along with the rest of the island. The Category 5 Hurricane Maria was worst natural disaster in Puerto Rican history. The hurricane disabled the electrical grid throughout the island and destroyed infrastructure, millions of dollars worth of agriculture, and thousands of homes. Research indicates that over 5,000 Puerto Ricans may have died as a result of the storm and the subsequent humanitarian crisis which persists today.
The city of Ponce suffered serious and costly damages with the hurricane’s passage.
For those who are suffering from addiction to drugs in Ponce, Hurricane Maria has restricted their access to non-profit organizations which provide them counseling, medical treatment, and clean syringes, a “harm-reduction” strategy which is meant to prevent people from contracting diseases from used needles. After the hurricane, victims of addiction in Ponce are now more likely to resort to used needles, which may be the only needles available, and they are more likely to lack important recovery resources. Overall, many substance abusers in Ponce now live in even greater poverty and desperation than they did before Hurricane Maria. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration granted a Community Disaster Loan of $5 million to Ponce to help rebuild the city, which may help people who are suffering from addiction in Ponce resume their journey to recovery or at least stay alive.
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Finding Help in Ponce
Anyone who is fighting drug addiction in Ponce faces a challenging road ahead, but there is always hope for recovery. With the right support, anyone can overcome addiction. If you or someone you know is living with the burdens of substance abuse and wants to start a new life, please contact a dedicated treatment professional today for more information on what to do and where to go for help.