At the beginning of the pandemic, the trends predicted by public health officials forecasted an increase in the proportion of individuals using substances alone, widespread toxification of the drug supply, and markedly reduced access to treatment, all of which could increase the lethality of overdose incidents. In addition, experts warned against the negative implications of social isolation which was likely to drive a surge in overdoses as people increasingly began using drugs alone without a person to call emergency medical services (EMS) or administer naloxone in the event of an overdose.

The rates of overdose deaths were increasing prior to the beginning of the pandemic, yet social distancing measures, increased isolation, heightened stress levels, and decreased emotional wellbeing in the population have contributed to a further rise in an alarming trend. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that there was a total of 19,416 overdose deaths recorded between January and March – an increase of nearly 3,000 compared with the same quarter last year. According to an analysis of national EMS data, overdose-related cardiac arrests – which typically result in death – spiked amid pandemic conditions. Data from a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry indicate that as of October 31, 2020, all but nine U.S. states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality among their populations.

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