In a paper published this month by the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University report an alarming surge in opioid overdose emergency room admissions during the current pandemic.
According to the data released, visits to the VCU Medical Center emergency room for non-fatal opioid overdoses rose 123% from March to June compared to the same period in 2019.
The increase in overdose admissions came as admissions for other medical issues were lower than average.
What the data appears to suggest (and other reports indicate the problem was widespread in the U.S.) is that the isolation and employment insecurity experienced by many during the COVID-19 shutdowns may have fueled a spike in substance abuse.
When looking at the demographics of these admissions, the researchers found that in 2019 and 2020, the overdose patients mostly were male (70% in 2019 and 73% in 2020), and nearly half were uninsured (40% in 2019 and 44% in 2020). Sadly, the percentage of Black overdose patients increased: from 63% in 2019 to 80% in 2020 – further underscoring the harm job insecurity and the accompanying economic hardship produce. It’s well documented that pandemic layoffs have disproportionately impacted workers of color.
So where does all this leave us?
As is so often the case, one health crisis often overshadows another. In this case, media attention on COVID-19 obscured the secondary public health challenge of substance abuse.
Sadly, we can expect to see a surge in overdose deaths and chronic alcoholism when all the stats on 2020 are tabulated.
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