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ER trips for opioid overdoses increased during the COVID-19 pandemic

Experts say time in social isolation impacted consumers’ drug use over the last year

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Photo (c) Predrag Popovski - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted that consumers’ alcohol and drug use increased over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic explored the risk that opioid users faced throughout the pandemic. 

According to the researchers, visits to the emergency room related to opioid overdoses increased by nearly 30% between 2018 and 2020. 

“COVID-19 and the disruptions in every part of our social and work lives, made this situation even harder by increasing the risk of opioid misuse and relapse because people were separated from their social support and normal routines,” said researcher Molly Jeffrey, Ph.D. “While institutions across the U.S. are keenly aware that opioid misuse is a major health concern, this shows that there is more work to be done, and it provides an opportunity for institutions and policymakers to expand evidence-based treatments and resources.” 

Increase in opioid use

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than two dozen emergency rooms across six states: Connecticut, Alabama, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Colorado, and Massachusetts. The team tracked the number of opioid overdose-related visits between January 2018, and December 2020, to determine how the pandemic impacted drug use and emergency medical help. 

The researchers learned that ER visits for opioid overdoses steadily increased over the course of the study. In 2018, there were 3,020 such visits. By the end of 2020, that number jumped to nearly 3,500, marking an increase of nearly 30% over those few years. 

Though these figures are a cause for concern, they only represent a fraction of the country. The researchers believe that the real numbers are much higher even in these states based on how many consumers opt against professional medical help in drug-related scenarios. 

The researchers hope these findings highlight the importance of having more widespread opioid-related education and resources for consumers. They also noted that although the pandemic may have made it difficult for consumers to have in-person support, teletherapy services can help those who struggle with opioid addiction.

“We think this may be an important way to increase the accessibility of care for many people with opioid misuse disorder or addiction,” Dr. Jeffrey said.

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