COVID-19 Pandemic Drives ‘Record Breaking’ Number Of Drug Overdoses
A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chemist checks confiscated powder containing fentanyl at the DEA Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019 in New York. - According to US government data, about 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2018. That accounts for 46 percent of all fatal overdoses. Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a range of conditions, has been central to the American opioid crisis which began in the late 1990s. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

Drug overdoses have skyrocketed to record levels amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“While most attention and government resources have been focused on COVID-19, the overdose crisis has worsened as people struggle with job losses, isolation, and the deaths of family and friends brought on by the pandemic,” The Hill reported Monday. “More than 83,000 people in the U.S. are thought to have died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending June, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record-breaking number.”

Although the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a national crisis two years ago, addiction treatment resources, which were already scarce in many parts of the country, all but disappeared during the pandemic. What few resources are available, the outlet notes, were, in many cases, cut off from those individuals who need them because of coronavirus-driven lockdowns and social distancing requirements.

“We’re going to solve COVID in the near term, and hopefully we’re on the path to doing that. But this addiction crisis was grave and gathering before that, and it’s only gotten worse,” the CEO of an addiction advocacy organization told The Hill, suggesting that COVID-19 mitigation efforts may have a higher cost than previously estimated.

The CDC’s data only covers through June of 2020, but a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in early February seems to show that drug overdoses continued to increase over the latter part of the year, and when a full set of data becomes available, 2020 may go down as the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses.

“In a large cross-sectional study published in JAMA Psychiatry on Feb. 3 that analyzed nearly 190 million emergency department (ED) visits, researchers found significantly higher rates of visits to EDs for opioid overdoses during the months of March to October 2020 when compared against the same dates in 2019,” per ABC News. “The study found that, from mid-April onward, the weekly rates of ED visits for drug overdoses increased by up to 45% when compared against the same period in 2019.”

“Overall ED visits for opioid overdoses were up 28.8% year over year,” the outlet said.

The trend also “accelerated” over the course of the year: “The CDC said in December that the rate of overdose deaths was accelerating during the pandemic, driven by synthetic opioids, which rose 38.4% during the year leading up to June 2020.”

Although neither the CDC nor the JAMA study could say the COVID-19 pandemic was definitively responsible for the increase in overdose deaths, they did note a very important correlation: the number of emergency room visits for mental health issues also increased dramatically over the same period.

“This same JAMA Psychiatry study found that emergency department visits for mental health conditions, intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect increased during the same time period as did suicide attempts.”

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