Florida Coalition Forges Strong Partnerships to Reduce Opioid Misuse

A cross-sector collaboration in Florida strengthens Drug Free Sarasota’s multi-component community awareness campaign.

About the Collaboration

Woman examining a pill bottle.Sarasota County, Florida was facing a growing heroin use and opioid misuse epidemic. In 2014, opioid-related unintentional poisoning was the leading cause of death for residents ages 25 to 34, with death rates in this age group increasing by 60 percent compared to the year before.1 The county was also experiencing increasing rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome among newborns of mothers who had used addictive opiate drugs during pregnancy.

"People in Sarasota County were dying," says Kameroon Boykins, Prevention Coalition Coordinator for Drug Free Sarasota. “The need to address the region's growing opioid misuse problems was urgent."

Drug Free Sarasota was poised to do so. Founded in 2009, the community-driven coalition is dedicated to reducing substance misuse through innovation, education, collaboration, and youth outreach. Boykins came on board in 2013, supported by SAMHSA Block Grant funding. "We were doing good things, such as working on safe disposal of prescription drugs," says Boykins. "But we didn't have the funding to extend our reach into our communities."

Then, in winter 2016, the coalition received a $200,000 grant from its managing entity, the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, to fund a comprehensive, multi-component opioid misuse prevention campaign. The funding was greatly needed but came with a daunting timeline: The campaign needed to launch immediately and wrap up in six months. With so much to do in so little time, Drug Free Sarasota realized it couldn't operate alone. "Our vision was to address opioids in the most comprehensive and collaborative way to meet our prevention needs," says Boykins. “For that, we needed partners.”

With new funding in hand and the clock ticking, the coalition hit the ground running, quickly convening a task force with the expertise and contacts to get the work done. Task force members represented law enforcement, health care, child welfare services, treatment and recovery services, as well as county and state health departments. The small working group set to work establishing priorities, refining prevention messages, developing materials, and coordinating events across the community.

On January 18, Drug Free Sarasota launched SafeRx, a comprehensive set of initiatives that built on the coalition's earlier work. The new campaign included training for health care providers on safe prescription drug prescribing practices and for pharmacy students on promoting safe disposal. It also included public education materials for pharmacies, elder care agencies, and local law enforcement to distribute; public service announcements and campaign ads; and a train-the-trainer event for health care providers and community members on the risks of misusing opioids during pregnancy.

The campaign also helped put Drug Free Sarasota—and its important work—on the map. Before the campaign, "very few community members knew what we were doing," says Boykins. Involving a broad range of players in campaign development and delivery not only contributed to campaign success but also helped to build broad-based support for county prevention efforts.

Elements of Success

Tap the Talent at the Table

Speakers at healthcare provided training.To populate the campaign task force, Boykins first looked to Drug Free Sarasota’s current membership, seeking out members who had a direct stake in the problem. "For example, we needed members invested in the development of materials so they could actually use them." She also recruited a diverse group of members with collective ‘reach.’ "We needed input from across sectors," she says. "We couldn't rely on just one group or organization." Task force members represented First Step of Sarasota, a substance abuse treatment center; the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office; behavioral and primary health care services provider Coastal Behavioral Healthcare; the behavioral health policy coordinator for Sarasota County Health and Human Services; and a child welfare systems advocate from the Florida Department of Health.

Having a strong, committed task force representing multiple community sectors helped to get buy-in and participation from other vital community partners. For example, a hospital administrator from the coalition’s board played a key role in establishing a continuing medical education event that brought physicians together with law enforcement and prevention and treatment experts. "We wanted to educate health care providers about the dangers of inconsistent messaging to patients, and the best way to do so was by connecting them with people working in the field." The task force eventually delivered the presentation in three hospitals in Sarasota and in one hospital in a neighboring county.

Create a Strong Identity

Boykins understood that the campaign needed a strong “brand”— to not only tie the multiple campaign elements together, but also to generate a sense of connection across partners. So when Drug Free Sarasota received a "5-Star Network" incentive award of $679 from its parent organization, Boykins hired a graphic designer to create a new logo for the coalition. "Now, no matter which partner used the materials—they could all feel part of the Drug Free Sarasota 'brand,'” says Boykins. This relatively small investment in marketing also paid off financially. "Because of our rebranding and our marketing efforts," says Boykins, "we later were the co-recipients of a $10,000 grant from the Sarasota Medical Alliance Foundation to update our website."

Make Your Dollars Count

Boykins knew that her initial $200,000 would only stretch so far, so she spent her dollars wisely—hiring the right people to help her bring the campaign to life. She hired a temporary full-time assistant to help with day-to-day tasks, freeing her up to do strategizing, networking, and promotion. She also contracted with media design specialists to create the campaign materials, including brochures, flyers, public service announcements, videos, and web ads.

Boykins also looked for opportunities to build on previous coalition efforts. "We had already created safe Rx disposal community cards," she says. "The additional funding allowed us to translate them into Spanish, revamp the cards' visuals, and distribute them more broadly." Boykins also leveraged the prevention efforts of her partners. For example, she connected with Healthy Start, a long-time Drug Free Sarasota member, to support its Clean Start program—dedicated to helping health care providers prevent substance misuse during pregnancy. "I knew their campaign was great but underfunded, and that it aligned with our priorities—to reduce the incidence of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. So funding Clean Start was a win-win for both of us."

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Where Boykins lacked the contacts she needed within the coalition, she knocked on doors to find them. For example, when she needed pharmacists on-board to help distribute flyers about safe disposal practices, she set out on foot to find them. "I just walked into a CVS and asked the pharmacist on duty if she ever got questions about safe disposal. When she said 'yes,' I offered to leave my flyers with her.” When Boykins learned that decisions about distributing materials were handled at the district office, she petitioned the district office directly. Their response? "We'll give you 11 stores."

Learn to Compromise

Effective collaboration involves both give and take. This is especially true when working with community partners from outside of the prevention world. As one example of successful compromise, Boykins points to the coalition’s "Save a Life" brochure, a resource for health care providers, social services representatives, and law enforcement to distribute to caregivers (family and friends) of people at risk of opioid overdose. Law enforcement felt strongly that the brochure should include information on Florida laws related to drug overdoses and citizens' rights, but the coalition had concerns. "We knew that the average person might have trouble understanding Florida statute, but law enforcement insisted that it be there." So they compromised, creating a brochure that contained the required statutes accompanied by a more user-friendly "translation." "The important thing was that the information get out there. Now, each time there is an overdose, we have a useful brochure that [police] can hand out to let families know about local resources and support."

Think Outside the Box

Boykins is humble about her work, but Drug Free Sarasota wouldn't have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time without her. She is a natural networker and connector, who sees any relationship as an opportunity for collaboration. She is also a savvy marketer who finds creative ways to promote her efforts. Where we might see an electric bill, Boykins sees an opportunity.

"We were able to secure the utility departments for Sarasota County, Sarasota City, and Venice City to put a message on their bills about safe Rx disposal, directing people back to Drug Free Sarasota," she says. "That's a reach of over 116,000 residents, so that was a huge accomplishment." This effort helped expose the coalition's prevention message to more consumers, while creating the opportunity for future collaboration. "That's really how I think about getting things done," she says. "You formalize those relationships, and then you build on them when you need them later on."

When it comes to promoting prevention, Drug Free Sarasota works outside the box—and beyond county lines. By involving physicians, law enforcement, and other coalitions from surrounding counties, they have been able to disseminate their materials to neighboring communities and counties. "Physicians who work in Sarasota may live next door in Manatee County. We also have residents in Manatee County who drive to Sarasota for medical care," Boykins says. “Collaborating with surrounding coalitions and combining advertisement efforts ensured that we were developing the right materials and reaching the broadest audience possible.”


Website Development Grant group photo.During the six months that SafeRx was in progress, the campaign either met or exceeded all of its goals. By the end of the campaign, the coalition had:

  • Provided training to over 100 health care providers, 80 health care administrators, and 40 pharmacy students
  • Provided a Clean Start Train the Trainer event for 30 professionals from community-based care, home visiting programs, and other community programs
  • Cohosted a diversion education and prevention summit for 82 health care providers and law enforcement representatives
  • Collected 4,097 unused/expired prescription medications at drug disposal locations
  • Donated 300 Rx disposal bags to Meals on Wheels for its homebound clients
  • Distributed 1,600 public education brochures
  • Distributed 111,000 pharmacy Rx disposal cards
  • Created two public service announcements (PSAs) that aired 5,147 times on cable TV networks
  • Provided financial support to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to air its own PSA on heroin use

Boykins is most proud of how the campaign has helped to engage new community partners in prevention. "Prevention is everyone's business," she says. "All of our programming is the direct result of community involvement. People are invested. Everybody has a part in it. The coalition has to be diverse to make this kind of effort a success."

Drug Free Sarasota campaign materials and resources are available online at http://www.drugfreesarasota.org/resources/


1. Drug Free Sarasota, Behavioral Health Strategic Planning Workgroup. (2015.) Sarasota County 2014 Drug Related Death Fact Sheet. Citing data from the Florida Department of Health, Florida Health Charts, Unintentional Injury Deaths 2014, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners, 2014 Annual Report. 

Last Updated: 09/20/2018