Did COVID fuel drug overdoses? Michigan deaths surged last year
COVID-19 overshadowed the opioid crisis in Michigan last year, but newly released data suggests the pandemic may have helped fuel an increase in drug deaths. Drug overdose deaths in 2020 climbed 16 percent in Michigan over the previous year — reaching an all-time high of 2,743 deaths, according to preliminary data released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, there were more than 93,000 drug deaths last year, a 30-percent jump. Experts attribute the spike to the isolation and strangeness of a pandemic that ground down the mental health of so many, but especially those who fought addiction. “Isolation, loss of job insecurity — all of those things are big-time stressors for anybody,” said Dr. Andrew King, an addiction specialist with the Wayne State University’s physicians group and an emergency room doctor at Detroit Medical Center’s Receiving Hospital. “People with substance use disorder in particular, might be at a higher risk of returning to use, potentially overdosing,” he said. The synthetic opioid (fentanyl), which is 50 times or more powerful than morphine, was found in 72 percent of the drug-overdose cases, or 208 cases. In the previous two years, it was present in about half of the overdose cases. “Any hit of heroin is like playing Russian roulette. It's potentially deadly,” said King, the Detroit emergency room doctor. “It's very rare now for me to see any patient who has not been exposed to fentanyl. Fentanyl is almost ubiquitous.” And because people were less likely to be with loved ones or friends during the pandemic, they were less likely to have someone close when they overdosed to administer naloxone, an emergency medication that’s used to reverse opioid overdoses. King tells patients that, if they’re going to use, be with someone with naloxone. “But in the case of the pandemic, if people are more isolated and not socializing, then sometimes it can be too late,” he said.
July 19, 2021