Drug overdose deaths hit record in US; local experts weigh in

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show drug overdose deaths spiked by 30% in 2020.

Statistics show 93,000 people overdosed and died last year — the highest number ever recorded in United States history.

The opioid crisis and the pandemic collided in 2020. COVID-19 infection rates may be simmering down as more people get vaccinated but the country’s overdose problem is long-lasting.

“When you kind of put this whole picture together, you have a group of people that are more stressed, and on top of that, the resources that were available prior to the pandemic were not,” said Mary Jo Horton, the manager at Memorial Health’s Behavior Health Center.

Horton has seen hundreds of patients over the course of the pandemic. She says many of them are drug abusers who were isolated and cut off from in-person support groups.

“While virtual options are wonderful, the idea of connection in person is important,” said Horton. “You have service providers that were not able to see people in person, and now we are seeing a big backlog in people being able to see a psychiatrist or therapist.”

Carol Pine, who just celebrated 19 years of sobriety herself, is among those working to provide support locally.

She created the Interfaith Recovery and Addiction Coalition in the past two years to help educate faith leaders on how to deal with substance abusers in their communities and congregations.

She says it starts with an understanding that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.

“We have just started creating what we call a rapid response team,” said Pine. “Some of our volunteers on our team are going to be available to faith leaders at any hour of the day or night.”

Horton and Pine agree early intervention is key and encouraging addicts to focus on getting helped — not being ashamed — is important.

“That way they won’t feel like they have no other choice, and to go to the street,” said Horton. “Because we know that once they get to that part of their life, they’re at a very high risk of death.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-821-4357. The national hotline is available 24/7 offering information on drug abuse organizations in your area.

The Gateway Community Behavioral Health Crisis Center also offers local services. Call 912-417-9476 for more information.

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