“An epidemic within a pandemic”: COVID lockdowns fueled spike in drug overdose deaths, CDC says

ORLANDO Fla. — Like the rest of the country, Florida saw a huge spike in drug overdose deaths because of the 2020 pandemic.

Experts call it an epidemic within a pandemic, thanks to increased isolation and mental stress and a more potent combination of drugs on the street.

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“We had made significant progress in opioid overdose deaths in the years prior to the pandemic,” Dr. Raghu Ganjam, an Addiction specialist in Orlando, said. “We’ve just lost all those gains and gotten much worse now.”

  • According to the CDC, Florida had 5,533 drug overdose deaths in 2019 and 7,579 in 2020. That’s a 37% increase year-over-year and more than twice as many as Florida had in 2015.
  • Drug overdose deaths accounted for 3% of all deaths in the state last year.
  • Dr. Ganjam attributed part of the cause to the pandemic, saying people were more likely to die from overdosing when they were alone rather than in groups.
  • The other major cause was an increase in fentanyl on the market. “Anything that is not prescribed and obtained from the community, whether it be an opiate, cocaine, methamphetamine, whatever it may be, you have to assume that it’s tainted with fentanyl,” he said.
  • Dr. Ganjam said he expected the numbers to level off or increase slightly in 2021. In Seminole County, sheriff’s deputies said they have seen a 10% increase in overdoses so far this year compared to 2020.
  • Dr. Ganjam said families who have someone battling substance abuse should have several doses of Narcan at home, and should be comfortable administering it. Narcan is available without a prescription at Florida pharmacies.

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