Local counselor offers advice to help those in crisis as overdose deaths reach record high

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO)- New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows U.S. deaths from opioid overdoses grew to an all-time high in 2020. Deaths increased by almost 30 percent, from 72,000 in 2019 to 93,000 last year.

One local drug counselor believes the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame.

“The pandemic put people into isolation, they didn’t have their typical coping mechanisms, places they could go,” said Tom Mlodzik, owner of Restore Counseling and Recovery Center in Loves Park. “When people are stressed like that, they need to escape, they want to feel numbed out from the feelings that are going on.”

Mlodzik has experienced an influx of patients seeking treatment during the pandemic.

“They were in situations that were more dire than they’ve ever been,” he said.

Sometimes, Mlodzik says, addiction starts when people who are struggling with mental health turn to their medicine cabinets to find relief.

“People have access to these prescriptions, and they self-medicate up on them, and then they receive medications on the street or from friends and habits begin to develop, and it lends itself to overdosing,” he said.

Looking out for signs and symptoms of depression can help curb overdoses.

“When people go silent, and they withdraw into themselves. When their thinking becomes much more negative. They are not eating or sleeping as well,” Mlodzik explained. “These are all good examples of when I think we need to be alert that this person needs to get some help, and that we should intervene with them and ask them about it.”

It’s also a good idea to be trained in how to administer the opioid reversal drug naloxone, also known as Narcan.

“People can devote that one hour, get the education and training they need, and now they have a set of skills when someone is shutting down,” Mlodzik said. “Well worth the time to be able to do that.”

Several local organizations offer naloxone training classes. The Winnebago County Health Department is offering virtual training on Wednesdays and Saturdays through the end of July.

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