Opioid Overdoses Appear to Have Increased During COVID-19 Pandemic - Are You Concerned?
Are you concerned about the apparent rise in opioid overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- The opioid crisis has been one of the major public health issues facing the U.S. in recent years, and while it has been supplanted in the minds of many this year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there are growing indications to suggest the opioid crisis has worsened during the pandemic.
- Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, opioids had already been the leading cause of overdose deaths by substance in the U.S. for several years and accounted for more deaths per 100,000 than car accidents or gun deaths (including suicides) as these USAFacts charts show:
- There has also been a surge in the number of people seeking treatment for opioid addiction in recent years. As the USAFacts chart below shows, opiates first surpassed alcohol as the leading substance people sought addiction treatment for in 2015, and the gap between the two has widened in the years since:
- Although national-level data isn’t yet available, the information that is available suggests that U.S. drug overdose deaths will reach an all-time high this year, exceeding the 2019 figure of 71,000 deaths. Over 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality, as well as ongoing concerns for those with mental illnesses or substance use disorders.
- Current-year opioid overdose and MAT dispensation figures for Vermont illustrate those challenges. There were 82 accidental overdoses from January to July 2020, as compared to 60 over the January-July 2019 period. This represents a 36.7% increase over the same period last year. Additionally, the rate of nonfatal overdoses per 10,000 emergency department visits increased from 15.1 in January-July 2019 to 29.1 over the January-July 2020 period.
- A similar story is playing out in New Jersey, where there was a 19.3% increase in suspected drug-related deaths from March-May 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019. Through the end of August 2020, there were 2,093 suspected drug-related deaths in the state.
Why has the opioid crisis worsened during the pandemic?
- The pandemic has destabilized people trying to achieve or maintain sobriety, increased barriers to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and increased stress and emotional volatility, both of which are risk factors for substance abuse.
- Because many people are socially isolated and those in treatment may not have access to their usual support groups, the odds of opioid users doing drugs along have increased. This in turn increases the risk that users will overdose without someone nearby to revive them with an overdose-reversal drug such as naloxone.
- Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the supply of illegal drugs flowing up from the U.S.-Mexico border. These supply interruptions can increase risks for users who are forced to seek new dealers and buy unfamiliar products that they may not be used to. This can increase the risks of overdose, purchasing contaminated products and other ills associated with the illegal drug market.
(Image Credit: iStockphoto.com / kyonntra)
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