NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- According to data from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, there were 421 overdoses in the county from January 1 through the end of April.
That's up from 254 during the same period last year. PCSO's Behavior Health Intervention Team (BHIT) leader Capt. Toni Roach said while a variety of factors played into the increase, COVID-19 had a big role.
What You Need To Know
- Pasco County saw more than 400 overdoses in the first four months of 2020
- Organizations say COVID-19 restrictions cut people off from social support systems and in-person resources
- CADCA says impact on recovery community is being felt nationwide
"What we've seen with a lot of people is they're in recovery and because of social distancing and social isolation and everything being closed down for an extended period of time, their social supports are no longer there anymore," said Roach.
Sheriff's office data shows overdoses for this time frame have been increasing steadily for at least three years. The first four months of the year saw 71 overdoses in 2017, 142 in 2018, and 254 in 2019.
But March and April of this year saw huge jumps. The county went from seeing 53 overdoses in March 2019 to 115 this year and from 62 overdoses in April 2019 to 128 last month.
The totals for those months were also up from the first two months of this year. There were 102 overdoses in January and 76 in February.
COVID-19's impact is being felt throughout the recovery community nationwide. Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) Chairman and CEO Gen. Arthur Dean said he doesn't have data on overdoses nationwide.
However, Dean said CADCA has received information from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that the virus is making the path to recovery more difficult.
"Just like any disease, it requires constant maintenance. One of the things that is critical is having social interaction with those that help you on your path to recovery, and that's what these programs do for individuals," Dean said.
The Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention's coalition coordinator Kellie Rodriguez and recovery committee co-chair Cesar Rodriguez, both in long-term recovery, agree.
"Addiction, alcoholism, is a disease that thrives on isolation. If you're isolated, you can get into your head, and relapse is a lot closer," said Cesar Rodriguez.
"A lot of the meetings went to Zoom format, which is great. It's amazing we were still able to do those meetings, but without that fellowship, I think a lot of people may have felt isolated," said Kellie Rodriguez. "Speaking for myself, there was a big difference doing it via Zoom than in the clubhouses."
Kellie Rodriguez said interruptions to normal court and probation proceedings may have also removed a layer of accountability for those new to recovery.
While all said they were optimistic the state's reopening could serve to reconnect people with resources and bring those numbers down, steps are being taken to help that along. Members of the BHIT normally work to connect with survivors within 24-48 hours of an overdose to see if they want to be connected with recovery resources.
Roach said for two weeks, they've also been leaving survivors with doses of Narcan, the drug that can save the life of someone who's overdosing. She said the effort is also being made to bring together community stakeholders to come up with a strategy to curb the numbers
"We have a lot of different actions that were in the process that were kind of put on hold because of other concerns, and now we're all trying to pick up the pieces and figure out 'Where do we go from here?'" Roach said. "It's a collaborative effort. The sheriff's office can't do it alone. The health department can't do it alone, BayCare -- it's an entire community."
Dean said CADCA is working with its more than 5,000 community-based, multi-sector coalitions across the country to provide virtual training on how to address these new challenges. He said they're also working with members to distribute special pouches in which unused prescription medications can be mixed with warm water to create an environmentally-friendly way to get rid of the medicines.
The Rodriguezes said help is always available and pointed those in need to empoweredcommunities.org
"The message is: don't be afraid to ask for help," said Cesar Rodriguez. "I have come from a very dark place -- years of addiction. I received help and I came out of that and I have a healthy family and a job and I'm giving back to my community. Anybody else can do that."
SAMHSA's National Helpline is also available 24 hours a day free of charge at 800-662-HELP (4357). You can also visit https://www.samhsa.gov.
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