PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Pasco County is using funds from opioid settlements to support community programs that tackle addiction. The county's Opioid Task Force is currently accepting proposals for new projects to fund.
Nearly $900,000 in the county's new Opioid Treatment, Prevention and Recovery Fund will be used to support projects that directly address those issues. County leaders said it's an opportunity to make a difference, as the opioid epidemic continues to affect residents.
Justin McPadden's battle with substance abuse began when he was just 12 years old. He would go on to fight addiction for the following 23 years.
“It unleashed this person in me that was an animal, you know," he said. "I lost everything — strung out, 130 pounds soaking wet. I never thought I’d be a junkie and turned into a junkie.”
McPadden said substance abuse runs in his family and growing up, using drugs and alcohol seemed like a normal part of life to him. But things took a rough turn for McPadden once he was introduced to opioids.
“It’s almost like hell," he said. "You’re going through hell. And you never know when it’s going to happen to you. Nobody just sits there and just goes, ‘Hey you know I’m going to be a drug addict.’ I was manageable up until that point of having that physical addiction and then it was over from there. “
Pasco is among the counties in the state with the highest rate of deaths from drug overdose, according to the Florida Department of Health. Data shows Pasco County's rate of drug overdose deaths was nearly double that of the state average and in 2021.
McPadden said Pasco County's new fund to support addiction programming and services is a good start in reversing the damage done by the opioid epidemic.
"It’s going to set these people up for success because right now, there is a gap and the percentage of them winning is very small," he said. "We have to align everything so they can have success, so they have a fighting chance.”
Every day is still a fight for McPadden, as he's in long-term recovery. But he wants to give those battling with subsance abuse a glimmer of hope. McPadden is the president of The Hope Shot, a nonprofit that helps people on the path to recovery. He added that the organization will be applying for Pasco County's funds to help support its services.
"You’re not just stuck in your disease and your addiction," McPadden said. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel if you just want it and you have to want it in order to get there and that’s something we definitely want to try to get people to their own realization, that they can have it too."
The county is currently accepting applications until June 23. After that, county commissioners will vote on how to use the money.