ORLANDO, Fla. – The latest initiative to promote Mental Health Awareness Month has brought several alarming statistics to light, including the record number of drug overdose deaths in 2021.
“There’s a mental health crisis that goes along with it because you cannot be addicted to a substance and not also have a co-occurring, co-present mental health condition,” Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said during an interview on “The Weekly” with Justin Warmoth.
“COVID has only made that situation worse,” Lemma added.
According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths in the United States topped 100,000 last year. As providers work on prevention and access to treatment, the stigma surrounding mental illness has been challenged.
“We want to break that stigma,” said Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems, which provides free clinical support in Flagler, Volusia, Lake, Sumter, and Marion counties.
Cauffield called the team at LSF Health Systems the “safety net system” for anyone dealing with a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and mental illness. She encouraged parents to call the “ACCESS TO CARE LINE” at 1-877-229-9098 at any time to speak with a clinical team member. Dr. Cauffield said these are free services for people who don’t have insurance.
Substance use disorder or the misuse of drugs or alcohol was identified in 17 million adults also living with mental illness in 2020, according to a study by the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
While some would consider the majority of deaths “accidental,” Sheriff Lemma said he treats any overdose as a crime.
“I’ve never met anyone who’s intended to overdose, right? So, what I think we do is we treat every overdose situation as a crime,” Lemma said.
In Seminole County, Sheriff Lemma said they’ve charged over 30 drug dealers accused of selling fentanyl-laced drugs with first-degree murder. He called it a step that is part of breaking the cycle.