PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – Figures recently released by the CDC showed a startling increase in the number of opioid overdoses across the country. More than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses over a one-year period between May 2020 and April 2021; a 30% increase over the previous year.
In the Tampa Bay area, the overdose rate is 23 people per 100,000. This rate is 9% higher than the rest of Florida and 50% higher than the national average. Florida ranks second after California in the number of overdose deaths.
The pandemic, coupled with increased depression and more deadly synthetic drugs, is contributing to the spike in deaths, experts say.
“It’s more than car crashes, heart attacks, when I describe what fentanyl (synthetic opioids) is, I don’t know how to describe it other than murder,” said John Templeton Jr.
Templeton Jr. is on the front lines of Florida’s opioid crisis. He runs the Footprints Beachside Recovery Center on Treasure Island.
“We don’t want anyone to lose hope and our desire is to change that number. There have been 100,000 overdose deaths in the last 12 months. That’s 100,000 people who could still be here,” he said. he explains.
The Pasco County Sheriff is the latest law enforcement agency seeking to raise awareness of a dangerous new synthetic opioid called ISO. It’s 20 times stronger than fentanyl.
“In the Tampa Bay area alone, 30 people die every week, or 30 people in our community leaving loved ones every week,” said Jennifer Webb of Live Tampa Bay, formerly known as Project Opioid Tampa Bay.
Local and state leaders are mobilizing to help. This month, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis announced a new school curriculum called “The Facts. Your future.” aimed at preventing teenagers from abusing drugs.
“I think education is important because a kid in high school can be introduced to a Xanax and they’ve heard about this drug and their aunt takes it and someone gives it to them at a party and he’s rushed with it. of Fentanyl and they don’t’ wake me up the next day. It’s scary and devastating and it can impact a straight kid,” Templeton Jr added.
Pinellas County is also investing $2 million in overdose reversal drugs like Narcan and training first responders.
Templeton hopes more people will seek help, a decision that likely saved his life two decades ago.
“I’m going into my 20th year of sobriety and what a wonderful life and what a wonderful gift it is and we want other people to experience it and it’s devastating when you think about how many people die every day at because of bad drugs,” explained Templeton Jr.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will distribute $4.3 million to organizations in Florida to provide treatment and support for opioid abuse in the middle of the national opioid epidemic.
Webb hopes Florida will also invest more in tracking the effectiveness of various opioid abuse treatments.
“How can we get better data on not just who dies and who doesn’t, but what treatment works for Floridians and how can we keep people on the road to recovery instead of relapsing and dying?” she said.
In Pinellas County alone, 546 overdose deaths were reported by the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office in 2020. In the first six months of 2021, it reported 298 overdose deaths, on track to top the numbers last year’s record, which accounted for a 35 percent increase in drug-related deaths.
“The trend of overdose deaths doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, but for those struggling with addiction, you’re not alone and it’s not too late,” said Templeton Jr.