Study Shows Rise in Drug Overdoses During Pandemic

Even prior to COVID, progress being reversed by introduction of fentanyl

New data from around the U.S. confirms that drug overdoses are spiking during the coronavirus pandemic, rising by roughly 18%.

Reports collected in real time by the Washington, D.C.-based group ODMAP — the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, located at the University of Baltimore — also found a significant spike in the number of fatal overdoses.

“Overdose clusters have shifted from traditional centralized urban locations to adjacent and surrounding suburban and rural areas,” said ODMAP program manager Aliese Alter.

The organization compared reported overdoses, fatal and nonfatal, in the weeks leading up to coronavirus quarantine measures and in the weeks after.

In all, more than 60% of counties participating in the information-gathering project reported increases in drug overdoses, with some communities seeing deadly surges in the number of people needing help.

“We did find the number of spike alerts and also the duration of those spikes had increased nationally since the commencement of state-mandated stay at home orders,” Alter told NPR.

Because the U.S. government doesn’t collect comprehensive overdose data, her organization’s reports — based on information submitted by more than 1,200 agencies nationwide — offer the best snapshot of how the pandemic is affecting Americans at risk of drug overdose.

“We tell people not to isolate, that’s bad, it’s a red flag” for people coping with addiction, Jennifer Austin told NPR. “The pandemic comes and we’re literally told that we’re supposed to be isolating, like, stay away from people.”

Making matters worse is a separate trend: Street drugs are often more dangerous now because more dealers are lacing products with a deadly synthetic opioid called fentanyl. This means when people relapse, they’re at greater risk.

“Basically all the progress we made has now been reversed. And this is even before the pandemic,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Overdose deaths rose 5% last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killing roughly 72,000 Americans.


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