NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — We’ve been reporting here on ABC Action News about the pandemic’s impact on those struggling with substance abuse. A local organization contacted us about a spike in overdoses this month in Pasco County.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is digging deeper to find out why we’re seeing an increase in overdose and what’s being done to help people feel comfortable reporting an overdose when it happens.
“I’ve seen several of my friends pass away from the disease of addiction,” said Kellie Rodriguez from Alliance for Substance Addiction Prevention.
The pandemic has made fighting the opioid epidemic tough.
“And when you have an underlying mental health condition, that can end up being a perfect storm for problems related to substances,” said Captain Toni Roach from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
The stress and anxiety of the pandemic caused overdose rates to skyrocket in the Bay Area with limited resources and rehabilitation centers closed, even people who’ve been clean for years found themselves relapsing, but as places started opening back up and overdose rates started to decrease, it seemed as if we were in the clear, but we weren’t. At least not in Pasco County.
So far this month, 84 people have overdosed and 16 people have died causing concern for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and local organizations on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic here.
“The amount of work that’s needed in the community cannot be absorbed just by one organization,” said Captain Toni Roach, who leads the Behavioral Health Intervention Team, a special unit of detectives who work with community organizations fighting the opioid epidemic in Pasco County. “We provide a lot of mental health training for our police officers at different points in their careers.”
When there are more than seven overdoses reported within 24-hours, an alert is issued and this month they’ve issued several.
“What we’re trying to do as a community is raise awareness of when we have those spikes in the community,” said Captain Roach. They do that by displaying signage along the highways informing the public that there may be a bad batch of drugs on the streets and most importantly how to get help.
Professionals have also noticed a correlation between when the stimulus checks hit and an increase in the rate of overdoses. “So when people have the money in their hands, typically the overdoses go up,” said Rodriguez.
Another way the county is trying to keep people alive is through their Good Samaritan Law. It’s meant to help people feel comfortable calling 9-1-1 to report an overdose. Under the law, it protects the person who makes the call and the person who overdosed from being prosecuted, even if drugs are found when authorities arrive.
Rodriguez says criminalizing addiction has never worked and will never work. “We can’t arrest our way out of an epidemic this is a disease, it’s classified as a disease and the more we treat people with compassion and dignity, more people are going to reach out for help before they hit that rock bottom.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, here are some resources: