FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - More people who are out of work and isolated at home are dying of drug overdoses in South Florida, becoming overlooked victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida reported 5,621 overdose deaths, a 14% increase from January 2019 to January 2020, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in parts of South Florida, early numbers suggest 2020 could be even worse.
In Palm Beach County, overdose deaths are already 49% higher from January to August of this year than they were for the same period last year, according to records. At the current rate, the county could see nearly 200 more deaths in 2020 than there were in 2019.
Palm Beach Fire Rescue said they have already administered Narcan, an antidote that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose, as many times as they have in all of 2019. They have received nearly 300 more calls for overdoses than they did by the same time last year.
In Miami-Dade County, a supervisor for IDEA Exchange, the first needle exchange program in the state, said they have seen a dramatic increase in requests for Narcan, as well as an increase in self-reported overdoses by clients.
The county medical examiner said documented overdose deaths are so far slightly lower this year than they were last year, but Miami Dade Fire Rescue has seen a 3% rise in overdose-related calls compared with the same time last year.
The full picture of what is happening has yet to materialize due to the lack of available data. But many advocates for addicts as well as leaders at treatment centers agree that drug use and overdoses have been on a sharp rise throughout the pandemic. They also think the worst is yet to come.
"I have a feeling that we haven't even begun to see the backlash yet," said Staci Katz, who runs a local nonprofit in Boynton Beach to help people struggling with addiction.
Katz started her nonprofit three years ago with a friend whose son had recently died of an overdose. Katz's own son has struggled with addiction for over 10 years.
He said he was sober before the pandemic started but has recently relapsed into drug use after struggling to find work and housing as a result of coronavirus restrictions and a collapsing economy.