Overdose Deaths during Coronavirus Pandemic Skyrocket

Overdose Deaths during Coronavirus Pandemic Skyrocket

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While the coronavirus has sat at the top of our headlines for nearly a year, the drug use epidemic has quietly been stealing life from people at a quickening pace. It’s gone largely under-reported in mainstream media, though the impacts of drug use and overdose deaths have been felt in households across the nation.

A Look at the Rising Numbers

There had been some uptick in drug overdose-related deaths before the pandemic was declared in March 2020. But now, medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control believe the increases in drug overdose deaths appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. [1] Some preliminary data found overdose deaths during coronavirus to be the highest it’s ever been.

In October, for example, California’s Attorney General reported that there had been more deaths from overdoses than from the coronavirus in some counties. [2]

And on the other side of the US in South Carolina, the story is similar and grim. In May 2020, the state logged the most overdose incidents ever, with 930 suspected opioid overdoses. In June 2020, South Carolina emergency crews responded to 900 suspected opioid overdoses. Sadly, that is nearly double the number of calls from the same month in 2019. [3]

Across the county, overdose deaths surged in March 2020 with an increase of 18% compared to the same month in the year before. The death rate grew by 29% in April and 42% in May, compared to the same months in 2019. [2]

According to the American Medical Association, more than 40 states reported upticks in opioid-related mortality. The organization is also worried about those suffering from mental health issues and new or intensifying drug addictions exacerbated by the pandemic. [4]

What’s Causing the Surge in Overdose Deaths During the Coronavirus?

A lack of resources, tight legislation, and long periods of isolation has contributed to the increase in deaths caused by overdoses.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in an agency health advisory. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important not to lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.” [5]

The pandemic has ushered in a wave of secondary and tertiary impacts. Some people find themselves in economic distress from reduced wages, fewer working hours, and/or with no job at all. Many people are isolated by community stay-at-home orders or simply because they are afraid of contracting the virus. More and more people are suffering from depression and anxiety.

These compounding factors have led to more people trying drugs, increasing their use, or relapsing.

For people in treatment before the pandemic, transportation to doctor appointments or clinics has become more complicated. Many group sessions were impossible because of social distancing requirements. Plus, many clinicians have opted out of in-person therapy appointments and moved toward video conferencing. Medical experts agree digital appointments are better than no meetings, but some critics say they aren’t as effective for people new to recovery. [6]

A Variety of Drugs are Contributing to the Spike in Deaths

Cocaine overdoses have increased by 26.5%. Some research has found that cocaine use deaths are linked to co-use or contamination by fentanyl or heroin.

Overdose deaths during the coronavirus pandemic involving psychostimulants, like methamphetamine, have increased by 34.8%.

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Of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data, 37 of them logged increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths. The spike was more than 50% in 18 of the jurisdictions. Even more startling, ten western states showed an increase of more than 98% in synthetic opioid-involved deaths. [1]

Ways to Help Fight the Rising Number of Overdose Deaths

Since taking office, President Biden has begun naming members to a team tasked with addressing our nation’s addiction crisis. He promised to release a series of policy actions in the first 100 days. [7] Some of those immediate efforts will be focused on racial equity in drug policy and further loosening regulations on medications used to treat opioid use disorder.

With so many factors compounding on the already ubiquitous drug epidemic in our country, Ocean Hills Recovery is available to help those struggling with addiction. Our staff wants to aid you in your pursuit of recovery. Contact us today for details about our alcohol and drug treatment programs. We remain open for those seeking help for all levels of addiction treatment in California and we commit to implementing recommendations from health authorities to give you peace of mind as you put your trust in us for addiction treatment services.



[1] https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/2020/han00438.asp
[2] https://fox40.com/news/california-connection/attorney-general-xavier-becerra-law-enforcement-25-spike-in-opioid-overdose-deaths-amid-covid-19/
[3] https://www.live5news.com/2020/07/30/pandemic-blamed-increase-drug-overdoses/
[4] https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-12/issue-brief-increases-in-opioid-related-overdose.pdf
[5] https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-12-17/us-drug-overdose-deaths-reach-record-highs
[6] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/whats-behind-the-historic-spike-in-drug-overdose-deaths-under-covid-19
[7] https://www.npr.org/sections/president-biden-takes-office/2021/02/03/963732520/as-overdose-deaths-surge-white-house-takes-steps-to-build-drug-policy-team

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