Over 70% of drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid, according to the CDC, though trends were leveling off before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, that trend has reversed significantly, data are showing.
The research team studied visits to 25 emergency departments in six states ? Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Rhode Island ? from January 2018 through December 2020. Opioid-related overdose visits increased to 3,486 in 2020 from 3,285 and 3,020 in 2019 and 2018, respectively. Previous research by this team found an immediate and significant decrease in emergency department visits during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that continued throughout 2020.
Despite the increase in opioid-related visits, the researchers say evidence suggests the percentage of people who experience an overdose but choose not to visit the emergency department is likely increasing, suggesting overdose rates may be even higher.
“In the absence of comprehensive, real-time national surveillance data, our results offer evidence that the increases in nonfatal opioid overdose rates are not isolated to specific communities,” the researchers wrote.
Dr. Jeffery says treatments for opioid misuse, such as buprenorphine and methadone, need to be more accessible, as does naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. She says, however, it’s a good sign that telemedicine access for psychiatric care increased during the pandemic and has remained high.
“We think this may be an important way to increase the accessibility of care for many people with opioid misuse disorder or addiction,” Dr. Jeffery says.