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Florida overdose deaths skyrocketed in 2020

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 3:53 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Early estimates from the CDC show 93,000 overdose deaths throughout the United States in 2020, a 30 percent increase over the year prior. In Florida, the picture is even bleaker, with the state seeing a 37 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2020.

There were more than 7,500 overdose deaths in Florida in 2020 compared to just over 5,500 the year before. The main driver of fatal overdoses: synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

“And we think that these overdoses were unintentional because the majority of individuals did not know that the substance that they were ingesting contained fentanyl,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

Brown-Woofter said during the pandemic the state saw a dramatic decrease in Floridians seeking help for substance abuse problems.

“And we think that was a reaction to the anxiety and the strain of the pandemic. You know the economic uncertainty, the isolation,” said Brown-Woofter.

The fear of exacerbating mental health and substance abuse issues was one of the main drivers behind Governor Ron DeSantis’ push to reopen the state last summer.

“We do know that opening things back up increased access. So we now have treatment providers who have an increased number of detox beds, of residential services that are available,” said Brown-Woofter.

Mental health experts say there’s no clear pattern to show states that locked down did better or worse at curbing overdose deaths. Florida ranked second in the nation for total overdose deaths, but 13 states and the District of Columbia saw larger year-over-year increases than the Sunshine State. Brown-Woofter did note that there have been some positive indicators here in Florida in recent months.

“We are very thankful that since March of 2021 we’ve seen an increase in the number of individuals receiving medication-assisted treatment and the number of individuals coming into recovery. So there is a bright spot to all of this bad news,” said Brown-Woofter.

According to the Florida Behavior Health Association, state lawmakers committed $273 million towards medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse this past legislative session.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse issue, Florida’s Attorney General is encouraging Floridians to visit DoseOfRealityFL.com, which offers information and resources to those seeking help.