Drug Overdose Deaths in America Another Unintended Consequence of Government’s Response to the Pandemic

In its most recent data release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines one of the most serious health issues facing the United States, an issue which has worsened significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic one year ago.  While I have posted on this subject in the past few months, it is important for us to understand how government's response to the pandemic continues to have a negative and far-reaching impact on certain subgroups of Americans.

Here is a graph showing the 12 month-ending provisional number of drug over deaths for the entire United States with the circles showing the predicted number of drug overdose deaths and the solid line showing the actual number of overdose deaths:

In the 12 month period ending in September 2020, the last month for which data is available, there were 87,203 drug overdose deaths, up from 68,757 in the year prior to September 2019 (i.e September 2018 to September 2020), an increase of 26.8 percent.

Here is a graphic showing the 12-month-ending provisional number of drug overdose deaths by drug type or drug class:

By drug type or drug class, the month-ending provisional number of drug overdose deaths were as follows 

1.) Opioids – 64,472

2.) Synthetic Opioids excluding methadone – 53,877

3.) Psychostimulants with abuse potential – 21,961

4.) Cocaine – 19,239

5.) Heroin – 13,780

6.) Natural and semi-synthetic opioids – 13,122

7.) Methadone – 3,361

In comparison, in September 2019, the 12-month-ending provisional number of drug overdoses from opioids was 48,140 and from synthetic opioids was 34,057. 

Here is a graphic showing the predicted percent change in drug overdose deaths between September 2019 and September 2020:

Here is a table showing the 9 states with the most drug overdose deaths:

Here is a table showing the 10 states with the least drug overdose deaths:

Here is a table showing the 10 states with the greatest percentage increase in drug overdose deaths:

Here is a table showing the 10 states with the lowest percentage increase in drug overdose deaths:

 

It is quite clear that the pandemic has had a significant and ongoing impact on the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States, thanks in large part to the government-ordered closures of treatment programs, drop-in centers that provide safe injection sites and naloxone.  For example, a 2020 study by Sara Glick et al found that 43 percent of Syringe Services Programs (SSP) reported a decrease in the availability of services due to COVID-19 including 25 percent that reported that one or more of their sites had closed due to the pandemic.  

Let's close this posting with the conclusion from Glick's analysis which clearly outlines the issue:

"While SSPs are to be admired for their resiliency and ingenuity in the present COVID-19 pandemic situation, the problems presently facing SSPs must not be underestimated. Clients are likely to have great difficulty social distancing and “staying at home;” most will need to obtain drugs to avoid withdrawal and many remain homeless. Many SSPs have closed and those that remain open have greatly reduced their services, are struggling to procure sufficient PPE for staff, and have been forced to reduce testing for blood borne pathogens, a change that could lead to increasing rates of HIV and HCV among an already vulnerable population."

The rising number of drug overdose deaths in the United States over the past year is yet another  in a long line of unintended consequence of the governments' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Click HERE to read more from this author.


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