More than twice as many people died of opioid overdoses in Monroe County this April and March compared to the same months last year, according to data from the county’s heroin task force.
The combined 2019 death toll for the two months was 12. During the same period this year, the county recorded 29 fatal overdoses.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Favata, the head of the county’s heroin task force, said the social isolation brought on by distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 is likely driving some people toward drug use as a coping mechanism.
“The hardest thing for a human to do is change their behavior. Now, we’re telling you to stay in your homes and compounding restrictions,” he said.
Task force members are still making visits to the homes of people who overdose, Favata said, because social distancing is incompatible with the goal of getting those people into treatment.
“Face-to-face contact is what a lot of these people battling addiction need.”
The task force, like the rest of the Sheriff’s Office, is taking additional precautions to reduce the risk of virus transmission. The department said deputies are screened for fevers each day they work.
Favata said he wears a mask and gloves and tries to stay at least 6 feet away from people, even when he visits their homes.
“If the person’s in a house, let’s talk outside. You know, I’m not going to go in the house like I would normally,” he said.
Favata said those home visits are crucial for making the personal connections that result in a person agreeing to begin recovery. He stressed that they are not about making arrests, echoing what Sheriff Todd Baxter has said about the department’s priorities for people who are addicted to opioids.
Baxter and Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley have said they want to arrest and prosecute people who deal drugs, but they want deputies to focus on getting drug users into treatment.