Pasco drug overdoses climb during pandemic, mirroring national trend

COVID-19 is causing deaths even of people who didn't catch the virus.

Pasco County says it's seeing the same phenomenon the CDC is after nationwide numbers were released that show since the pandemic started, the number of overdose deaths has risen dramatically.

In the 12-month period ending in September, 87,000 Americans died of an overdose. That's nearly 20,000 more than the year before.

Rachel Starostin is known in New Port Richey for giving out the anti-overdose drug, Narcan.

"This guy flagged me down and is like hey, I have been looking for you."

After she gave him 60 doses, he said he just watched a friend die, and was worried that number wouldn't even be enough for the active users he knows.

"He said (he is) afraid, (and that) it is just really hard to watch everyone die."

Numbers from the Pasco sheriff show an average of 73 a month overdosed in 2019.  

In 2020, it was 124. 

If you compare just January and February, it has gone from 70 in 2019, to 90 in 2020 to 105 this year. 

The sheriff says COVID has isolated users of illegal drugs, made it more difficult to access services, and even provided more money to buy drugs with.

"We definitely see spikes when the stimulus checks come out," said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.

Before the pandemic, around 70,000 were dying every 12 months.  

It shoots up to around 90,000 by September of 2020, with six months of data to go. 

Pasco deputies have put up signs offering ways to get help in their most troubled area, on U.S. 19 between Holiday and Hudson.

"We want to make sure people know that help is out there and that there is absolutely no judgement if you reach out for it," said Kellie Rodriguez, the coordinator of the Pasco Alliance for Substance and Addiction Prevention.

The sheriff can't get specific yet, but is making organizational changes to address the surge, both in going after traffickers and finding new ways to help users within the health care system.

"For those who are addicts, we have to recognize that jail and prison are not the best spots for addicts," said Sheriff Nocco.

Starostin - who has lost several family members to drugs - will keep giving out Narcan, in hopes it will at least save lives.

"You love people where they are at," she added. "And that is about the best you can do."