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Floridians with addiction are going to jail instead of rehab in Pinellas County

Even though the Marchman Act allows Floridians to have their relatives court-ordered into treatment, there are not enough state-funded beds for people who need rehabilitation.

There are not enough resources for people with addiction in Florida. This leads to a cycle of people going in and out of jail without the possibility of getting better.

That’s because even though the Marchman Act allows Floridians to have their relatives court-ordered into treatment, there are not enough state-funded beds for people who need rehabilitation.

The result is that people with substance use disorder end up sitting in jail for a couple of days. Then, they are often let go without the rehabilitation they need.

And every day that goes by that a person struggling with addiction doesn’t get treatment, they’re at risk of overdosing.

“A Pinellas County (deputy) came to my home and I asked him, 'Is this about Jennifer?' He said, ‘Yes.’ 'Is it bad?' He said, ‘Yes.’ 'Is she dead?' And he said, ‘Yes, she’s dead,’” Sharon Blair said recalling the day her 29-year-old daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, died of an overdose.

The first time Reynolds tried opioids she was 12 years old.

“She had surgery for scoliosis and she was given pain medication to manage her pain,” Sharon said. “That was the first time she learned what opioid pain medication can do.”

Once Blair found out Reynolds was addicted, she tried to get her into treatment through the Marchman Act.

“That’s the thing I kept hearing over and over again: There’s no beds available,” Blair said.

She begged a judge to court order her daughter into treatment, but after getting arrested, she would always get released without rehab.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said when his deputies get called to a scene where someone is intoxicated or overdosing, they don’t have anywhere to take them.

“What do we do with them? So, we take them to the jail and as soon as they sober up, we push them right out the back door and they go right back on the street and they’re doing the same thing over and over again,” Gualtieri said.

The sheriff's office takes in an average of 1,000 people a year under the Marchman act, but there are only 20 state-funded beds for long-term residential treatment.

“I feel like if we had more beds available, we’d see a lot more success stories out there,” said Carolyn Dennis, medical director for the detox program at Operation PAR.

After jail, some do get an opportunity to detox, but that’s not the same as rehabilitation.

“Someone leaving our facility for 21 days, are they more stable? Yes. Are they going to be successful? No. They really need longer treatment and we don’t have enough beds to do that for everybody,” Dennis said.

Reynolds went through detox many times.

“There’s nothing worse than losing a child, in the whole world,” Blair said.

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