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County receives $2 million to counter opioid crisis

Mark Parker

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Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Pinellas County has received a $2 million grant from the federal government to aid in the fight against the opioid crisis that has only worsened throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners approved a $2 million federal grant that will help the county reduce the number of deaths resulting from opioid and drug abuse. The funding will also support a community outreach program to better connect residents with effective treatment.

The funding comes at a critical time in the fight against substance abuse. In an email to the Catalyst, Tony Fabrizio, Senior Public Relations Coordinator for the county, relayed the dramatic overdose statistics and the impact the pandemic has had on the situation.

“The Covid-19 pandemic introduced new risks to Americans impacted by substance use disorder, as well as a series of new challenges related to treatment and recovery,” read the statement.

The Florida Department of Health reported that in the first eight months of 2020, there was an unprecedented 43% spike in drug overdose deaths statewide in Florida, compared to the same time in 2019.

Locally, data obtained from the Medical Examiner’s Office showed the number of overdose deaths in Pinellas County increased by 205% from 2015 to 2020. In 2020, 534 residents died from overdoses, a 29% increase from 2019.

Emergency medical transports of suspected overdoses increased by nearly 331% from 2016-2020, while 911 transports where Naloxone (Narcan) was administered increased by 56%. The county also noted that calls to 911 for suspected overdoses were highly concentrated in just a few zip codes, and those trends continue in 2021.

Fabrizio said the three zip codes with the highest rates of 911 calls for overdoses are 33713, 33714, and 33764. These zip codes include north-central St. Petersburg, Lealman and east Clearwater.

Pinellas County Human Services and Safety and Emergency Services have partnered with the First Responders – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (FR-CARA) program to try and reverse those statistics. The program aims to increase community access to Naloxone to counter opioid overdoses and increase training among the program’s partners on how to administer the drug.

The grant funding will also help to implement Quick Response Teams. These teams will contact consenting residents who have suffered an overdose and were subsequently revived by Emergency Medical Services to conduct wellness checks and connect them with community treatment programs. The outreach efforts will continue for up to 90 days after a person overdoses.

“We will soon have a competitive solicitation to work with an organization who can hire the case manager and peer support stat to fulfill the follow-ups,” said Fabrizio.

The county will also continuously evaluate data through the FR-CRA program’s evaluation methods to identify “actionable intelligence” that will inform and guide the program. The federal grant funding will be dispersed at about $500,000 per year for up to four years, and was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

 

 

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