Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida has seen an over 40 percent increase in drug-related overdose deaths. A recent study conducted by QuoteWizard for Lending Tree found that 2,143 more Floridians died of a drug overdose in 2020 than in 2019, making Florida the state with the seventh highest number of overdoses in 2020.
Nationwide, 87,203 people died of an overdose in 2020 compared to 68,757 in 2019. Florida joins states like Pennsylvania and California, which have also had the highest numbers of overdose deaths overall. Also, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia have had the highest increases in overdose-related deaths.
Combined, opioids account for nearly 70 percent of overdose deaths. Heroine, cocaine, methadone and psychostimulants account for the other 30 percent of fatal drug overdoses.
Emily Blunt, Public Relations Officer for QuoteWizard, said the pandemic itself seems to be the leading factor contributing to increased numbers. “We found that the sharp increase in overdose-related deaths coincides with the start of the pandemic in many places. It’s hard to attribute the rise in deaths to any one specific factor but the isolation, prolonged unemployment and overall feeling of uncertainty, and increased feelings of stress and depression that went along with the pandemic certainly played a role.”
Blunt is calling for a multi-pronged approach to solve the drug problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic “Solving this problem requires a multi-faceted approach. As a nation, we need a greater focus on prevention and education regarding the dangers of opioids and other controlled substances. There needs to be better reporting so that we can manage access to powerful drugs and track how they are being used. And we need additional funding for treatment and recovery programs.”
Persons going through addiction or individuals with friends or relatives going through addiction are reminded that there is help available and they are not alone. Blunt explained, “The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a hotline dedicated to helping people who are dealing with addiction. The number of fatal drug overdoses is a rapidly growing problem, but it’s also one we can solve.”
Every year, tens of thousands of people in Florida and across America die from drug or alcohol overdoses. In 2019, the Florida Legislature expanded the Good Samaritan Act, enacted in 2012, to curtail those numbers. The act shields people from arrest or prosecution of certain crimes if they seek medical help for themselves or someone else undergoing a drug or alcohol overdose.
While this act has contributed to more persons seeking help for drug or alcohol-related overdose, the onset of the pandemic has dampened progress made in 2019. Blunt is, therefore, welcoming “any additional legislation that adds to prevention and education, increased surveillance and reporting and additional funding for treatment and recovery that could help to stem this deadly tide”.