SARASOTA, Fla. - There is a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic. A spike in drug overdoses is being reported nationwide and the American Medical Association recently issued a warning saying opioid deaths have increased in more than 30 states.
Experts believe continued isolation, economic issues, and disruptions to the drug trade that have happened during the COVID-19 pandemic are fueling the surge in overdoses.
“Folks that suffer from addictions, they need structure. Idle time is an enemy to them. They need to be busy and they need to be accountable and when you pull some of those things away from them, it could get them in trouble,” explained Major Todd Shear with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
The agency reports there’s been a nearly 44% increase in non-fatal overdoses in this first six months of this year, compared to the same time in 2019. Overdose deaths stand at 49 through June, which is three more than the first six months of last year.
“It’s a challenge that we’re all facing, it’s an unintended consequence of COVID-19, and some of the measures that we have to take to protect the health of everyone,” Shear said.
Some treatment centers and recovery programs have been forced to scale back during the pandemic to meet health guidelines, and not everyone battling addiction has had the support they need.
“The sheriff’s office is always concerned when you see a fluctuation in numbers,” said Megan Krahe, media relations specialist with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office has recorded 29 fatal opioid overdoses during the first six months of this year, which is more than double the 13 overdoses that happened in all of 2019. Non-fatal overdoses have also spiked; through June, there were 121, compared to 88 total last year.
“We’re always looking for better ways to help the public and the community,” Krahe said.
Both the Sarasota and Manatee County sheriff’s offices have tools and strategies to help people suffering from addiction, ranging from treatment behind bars, deputies carrying naloxone, and specialized units that follow-up with everyone who overdoses.
“Law enforcement isn’t just out here to arrest folks who are utilizing drugs, we want to see folks get the help they need,” Shear said. “And if that means giving them a ride, and giving them resources, we’re gonna be on the front lines of doing that.”
U.S Congressman Vern Buchanan is now calling for any future federal coronavirus relief bills to include funding for drug treatment and prevention, especially for opioids.