Opioid crisis worsens during COVID-19 pandemic

Florida Department of Health reports nearly 50% increase in overdose deaths

ORLANDO, Fla. – The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to an increased concern by leaders working to combat another crisis: the opioid epidemic.

Jaime Bridges, LCSW, is the Opioid Outreach Coordinator at Orlando Health, ORMC. She brings personal experience to her position, working with overdose patients inside the hospital.

“I was addicted to pain pills, I was also a cop for a long time, and so I’m very real with my patients, I don’t have to hide anything,” Bridges said.

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Bridges said the current health crisis, with rising COVID-19 cases, has lead to more relapses in the patients she sees.

“I have seen countless number of people come in and say, you know, ‘I was doing great, and I lost my job,’ and 3-4 months into COVID, they did relapse,” Bridges said.

In some cases, Bridges said, the patients had been in recovery for four or five years before their recent relapse.

According to the Florida Department of Health, as cited in statistics reported by Project Opioid, the state has experienced a nearly 50% increase in opioid-related deaths since the same time in 2019. More than 3,606 deaths were reported from March to August of 2020.

Bridges said programs like the one she started with Orlando Health have had to adapt to meet the needs of patients in need of rehabilitation.

“A lot of substance use recovery has to do with one-on-one counseling, has to do with group therapy, and because of COVID, those things were shut down,” she said.

Bridges’ program distributed over 200 Narcan kits to patients leaving ORMC after an overdose, along with resources to take home.

“At the end of the day, [it’s about] reminding a person that struggles with any sort of substance use that they are not weak and it is not a sign of their failure, and to me, that’s really important and really powerful,” Bridges said.

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