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Overdoses rise in South Florida as people struggle with isolation from pandemic

By Andrew Boryga, Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

"It just made things harder," said Dillon Katz, 28.

After being kicked out of a sober home in Port St. Lucie, he lost his job as a tattoo artist because the shop in Palm Beach County had to close down, he said.

He found himself back home with his mother in Boynton Beach, where he began to use again. He said that every time he attempted to right himself, little things like getting his license renewed or visiting his bank became difficult because of the coronavirus and restrictions. Finding a job also was impossible.

The only industry that didn't seem to be experiencing issues, he said, was the drug trade. "It's still full-force going," he said.

In August, the CDC released the results of a nationwide survey that found that 13% of participants said they started or increased substance use to cope with pandemic-related stress or emotions.

Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, believes the rise in substance use directly coincides with the isolation that comes with long-term quarantining, the lack of physical contact with others in their recovery communities and the uncertainty for many who have lost their jobs due to the contracting economy.


"Those things all have mental health effects and they all contribute to substance abuse," she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Dr. John Dyben, chief medical officer at The Hanley Center at Origins, a treatment center in West Palm Beach, said that although many people are turning to the usual suspects of substances - such as alcohol and prescription drugs - others are also turning to the streets to dabble in riskier, and often deadlier drugs, such as fentanyl and heroin in the absence of other choices.

"If you can normally get OxyContin from your buddy who is a pharmacist, but now you can't, then people are going to turn to whatever they can get," he said.

Like many other local care providers that spoke to the Sun Sentinel, Dyben said his center expected a sharp decrease in patients once the pandemic started. But instead he saw the complete opposite.


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