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Pasco County Getting National Help To Fight Opioid Epidemic

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic continues to plague officials at all levels — and Pasco County is receiving help to battle the problem.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated the number of opioid overdose deaths across the state and country.

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths were reported nationwide between May 2019 and May 2020 — the highest number recorded in a 12-month period by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, were involved in over 38% of those deaths.

Officials say the response to COVID-19 has restricted the accessibility of treatment and needle exchange programs because of limited hours, closings, or even the reappropriation of facilities or funds to help combat the coronavirus.

In addition, social distancing mandates has led to more frequent opioid use, as well as increased the likelihood that people use substances alone, which puts them in danger if they were to overdose.

Project Opioid, a Central Florida based initiative, said that approximately 55 people a day died from a drug overdose statewide in 2020. Younger generations seem to be affected the most, with 53% of the overdoses in people between the ages of 25 and 44 — a group that makes up only 25% of the state’s population.

And one of the areas most impacted by the opioid epidemic is Pasco County.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office reported 1,491 overdoses and 268 deaths in 2020. Deaths were up 71% from 2019, compared to a 59% increase statewide.

The county is using a variety of methods to try to address the issue.

In 2019, Pasco was awarded a $638,400 Overdose Data to Action Grant from the CDC.

That funding means the county qualified to work with the five CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service fellows sent to the state.

Pasco Schools have access to school nurse specialists and BayCare to provide prevention and education efforts for students.

The county also implemented the CDC’s Rx Awareness Campaign.

It consists of former substance abuse victims telling their stories in an attempt to inform the public of the dangers and to shed light on possible treatment. Billboards and bus wraps throughout the county also highlighted the campaign.

And finally, the county and BayCare are planning an Informational Opioid Town Hall event March 2 to educate parents and caregivers about medication safety.

The event, which will take place from 3-4 p.m., will talk about the possibility of addiction in the home, as well as treatment options and resources for those who may know someone in active addiction.

Preregistration is suggested, as space is limited.

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The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

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Josuan Rodriguez