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Report: More Floridians Are Dying From Drug Overdoses Amid Pandemic

Opioids in the form of pills, a syringe and powder.
A report from Project Opioid found overdose deaths in Florida between March and August of this year increased by 43 percent compared to 2019.

Advocates say disruptions in care, job loss and increased stress and isolation due to the pandemic are fueling substance abuse problems.

More Floridians are dying from drug overdoses amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from the Orlando-based advocacy group Project Opioid.

The report looks at preliminary data from the Florida Department of Health and found overdose deaths between March and August of this year went up by at least 43 percent compared to the same time last year. Deaths in the month of May nearly doubled.

Those figures could increase as more medical examiners’ reports are submitted to the state.

The study found non-fatal overdoses also increased.

Project Opioid surveyed Floridians struggling with substance abuse issues and a majority said their mental health had become worse because of the pandemic, and that it became harder to get help.

Disruptions in care, job loss and increased stress and isolation due to the pandemic are contributing to the spikes, said Andrae Bailey, founder of Project Opioid.

“We need to look at every way possible to contain the spread of this virus, but if we keep doing that while ignoring the mental health and overdose crisis that's all around us people are going to continue dying in record numbers,” he said.

Bailey is calling for more money for treatment programs and emergency responders, as well as expanded access to telehealth. He said these were growing needs before the pandemic, but now it’s more important than ever.

“Community leaders need to feel the burden to come together and have a plan, but they're going to need the state and federal government to fund that plan like never before,” Bailey said, acknowledging the budget challenges local governments are facing because of coronavirus costs.

Bailey also urged people struggling with addiction and mental health issues not to avoid care because of the virus. He encourages leaders to incorporate discussions about how to get help into their public updates on pandemic response.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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