Holidays could compound overdose crisis

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Several U.S. senators are questioning the Food and Drug Administrations work with a consulting firm that helped businesses sell prescription painkillers during the nation's overdose crisis. Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, among others, have asked the FDA about potential conflicts of interest in its work with McKinsey and Co. The senators sent a letter Monday, Aug. 23, 2021 to the FDA noting that the agency paid McKinsey more than $140 million after hiring it several times starting in 2008. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file) (Toby Talbot, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE – For the first time in US history, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses over a one year period.

Mental health experts are worried that could just be the first sign of what they anticipate will be a post-pandemic overdose surge.

The holidays are also a particularly vulnerable time for those struggling with addiction.

In Florida, drug overdose deaths surged 17 percent last year, an increase of more than 2,100 deaths compared to 2019.

Fentanyl was the leading killer.

“People are turning to alternative means to deal with stress and to cope,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

Brown-Woofter said despite Florida’s anti-lock down COVID strategies, the state wasn’t spared from the mental health and substance abuse impacts of the pandemic.

“We were in probably the top third in the nation in terms of overdose deaths,” said Brown-Woofter.

And there’s a fear that overdoses could continue to rise even as the pandemic wanes.

“After both world wars, after the Great Depression, we saw the rate of suicide increase the year after the event ended,” said Brown-Woofter.

There’s also a fear in the immediate future, as holiday stress and anxiety historically lead to a spike in overdoses in the months of January and February.

“Many times families have experienced a loss of one of their family members around the holidays or maybe this is the first holiday without that individual. So there is definitely increased stress,” said Brown-Woofter.

Brown-Woofter told us one of the best things you can do for a loved one struggling with addiction over the holidays is to simply reach out and be a friend and let them know help is available.

“Just say hello, how are you? I’m worried about you. That simple conversation can really make the difference in someone’s life,” said Brown-Woofter.

And the Behavioral Health Association recommends visiting Florida’s First Lady’s Hope for Healing website to get linked up with resources if you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health or addiction crisis.

Florida Behavioral Health Association members also offer toll-free hotlines in most areas of the state.