Self-medicating is fueling nation’s opioid problem, mental health experts say

Overdose deaths up 29% in 2020

Conversations about mental health have been in the headlines recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children going back to school and, most recently, from Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles.

Central Florida mental health advocates like clinical social worker Jaime Bridges with Orlando Health said mental health comes with a range of issues. She says one issue plaguing the country is self-medicating.

“Opiate addiction is a smaller piece of mental health, but it’s a very specific area that is you know, dominating our country,” Bridges said.

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According to the most recent data from the CDC, overdose deaths in the United States rose 29.4% in 2020.

Bridges said while the COVID pandemic certainly hasn’t helped in the fight, she believes drug addiction is a separate public health crisis.

“I would beg to differ that this fentanyl crisis would be doing well on its own ... even without COVID,” Bridges said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

For several years, News 6 has dedicated dozens of reports about the deadly impacts fentanyl has had in Central Florida.

“Unfortunately, fentanyl is so potent and so dangerous that you could self-medicate one time with fentanyl and it could be the last time,” Bridges said.

Bridges says her work to help overdose patients leaving the hospital has seen positive results with increased access to Narcan

“We always want to say what can I do? Well, you can go down to the clinic, get your own Narcan, keep it with you, because one day you may need it,” Bridges said.

Bridges is a former police officer and openly shares her own experience with addiction.

“Anybody that’s willing to take on a responsibility and is willing to learn how to utilize the Narcan and feels like they can help in their community we can get Narcan in your hands and we want to give it to you,” Bridges said.

She says training is offered to any parent, relative or community member when they pick up Narcan.

In August, the Orange County Drug Free Office will launch a new initiative to reach out to businesses and father leaders in communities experiencing a significant rise in opioid-related calls for service. A team of volunteers will offer a toolkit that includes nasal Narcan and more resources to treat opioid addiction.

Narcan is available to pick up at the Orange County Medical Clinic at 101 S. Westmoreland Drive, according to Dr. Thomas Hall, Director of the Orange County Drug-Free Office.