Margate Recovery Advocate Tells It Like It Is. Alcohol and Drugs Are Killing Us

October 03, 2017 By Mitchell Pellecchia

More than 100 Americans a day die from alcohol and drug overdose, said Margate’s Rick Riccardi  at a recent speaking engagement in Fort Lauderdale. Opioids killed 33,000 users last year with heroin, fentanyl and morphine leading the pack. Another 88,000 died from alcohol poisoning. Riccardi didn’t paint a pretty picture.

“This has been going on a long time now. We’re in an epidemic and haven’t noticed it. Not even the federal government,”

he told a packed house of business and non-profit leaders at Fort Lauderdale’s Global Events Center.  (bottom photo).

Founder of Fellowship Living in Margate, Riccardi didn’t go easy on a packed house of business and non-profit professionals at the Global Events Center downtown Fort Lauderdale. when explaining obstacles addicts face in the 21st Century.

Riccardi oversees a 215 bed recovery organization for men and women in Margate and Fort Lauderdale, He showed the faces of hundreds of addicts who died from substance abuse in South Florida. A shocking visual for the group.

“These are your addicts and alcoholics who didn’t make it. Each had a life before their untimely death,” he said.

In Broward County alone, an average 27 users overdose each week. The fatality rate is about 37 percent.

Sober himself for more than 20 years, Riccardi spoke to the stigma attached to substance abuse and addicts, a group often thought of as hardcore criminals.

“We’re not the bad guys. Some people belong in jail because they’re really, really bad people,” he said, adding that a large number of addicts need recovery support – not jail time.

“When you hear and see what’s going on in the newspapers, it’s hard to differentiate the good from the bad. People think we’re like ‘those guys’ [sic]”, he said. “I’m here to differentiate that.”

Riccardi explained the trickle-down effect of substance abuse on children, revealing a 24 percent increase in the number of kids with junkie parents placed in Foster care in the past three years. A staggering 80% of children were removed from homes. “That’s what addiction now is doing to our kids,” he said.

  • Substance abuse and addiction costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $41 billion a year in healthcare
  • Nearly 68% of the 99,000 persons jailed and suffer from Substance Use Disorder cost Floridians another $1.6 billion
  • More than 400,000 a year cannot afford treatment and only 1 in 5 opioid abusers receive help.

On average, only one percent of substance abusers are able to get beds in treatment centers. A quarter of those being homeless.

“So we have a homeless problem in addition to an addiction problem,” said Riccardi, a Director on the Board of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) – an organization aimed at ensuring the quality and integrity of sober homes across the state. Riccardi and others in the recovery industry worked to pass Florida Statute 397.487, a law that establishes a certification process for recovery homes. To their credit, Broward County has set aside money in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget to expand the Broward Addiction Recovery Center in response to the opioid crisis.

Broward County Commissioners adopted a resolution supporting federal and state efforts to reduce the overprescribing of opioid medications and measures to strengthen prescription drug monitoring systems. The resolution supported the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic and the Governor’s order directing a Public Health Emergency across the state.

Riccardi said addiction is often seen as a moral failing, which is untrue.

“This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help. It has also made it more challenging to marshal the necessary investments in prevention and treatment. We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw.” – the Surgeon General
Even more difficult for recovering addicts is the negative stigma placed on sober homes by government and society in general, which results in fewer – not more facilities. Riccardi has jumped through land use hoops to expand his own operation in Margate, while others wanting to move into the city have gotten blow-back from elected officials and residents alike.
Riccardi told the room of baby boomers and millennials that stigmas are derived from three main sources. First: people only hear about problem homes – not the good ones. Second, media typically reports only on problem homes. Third, fear that having a sober home as a neighbor decreases property values and boosts crime rates. Riccardi says sarcastically:

“There’s a nice house next door and a bunch of recovering addicts are going to move in. Oh my god! What’s that going to do to the neighborhood?”

Riccardi refuted the stigma legend with research published by the American Planning Association.
“There is a huge disconnect between what city officials think recovery residences are like, and what they are actually like…,” conveyed Riccardi, who recently expanded efforts by opening the Fellowship Foundation Recovery Community Organizationa local resource where families and addicts can seek guidance and counseling on substance abuse.

Some Rotarians had questions.

“What can parents do to try to avoid the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse [by their children]?” asked one.

“The question often comes after the fact,” replied Riccardi, suggesting parents stay vigilant of who their children spend time with. “Peers are very important. There’s not much you can do if they’re hanging out with kids who are doing that stuff.”

Another wanted to know what the state is doing to help solve the problem.

“Not much,” Riccardi said. “Mental health funding is continually getting cut back in Florida, including dollars for addiction programs. When it comes down from the federal government it isn’t enough to make a difference with the state [lawmakers]. Right now it’s not their priority.”

Another in the audience questioned the impact of separating an addicted parent or child from their family during recovery.

“It saves their lives,” Riccardi answered in a blink. It’s all about getting family members to disconnect…which allows the addict to then connect with people who are going through the same thing. There is life without this stuff. Addicts aren’t necessarily going to listen to their parents or children when kicking the habit.”

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