Opioid overdoses increase nationally during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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More than 200,000 people have died in the US from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The pandemic is also leading to a higher number of overdoses.

La Crosse County has seen more than a 100 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2020.

Health experts say the county and state of Wisconsin are not alone in that rise.

“We need to work faster because in 40 states at least, the rates of overdose deaths are increased during COVID-19,” said Dr. Halena Gazelka, the Mayo Clinic Opioid Stewardship Program Chair.

Health officials say there are several reasons why addiction is higher right now including job loss and this time of fear and uncertainty.

“[Other factors are] poor response by 911, emergency medicine services being limited by some of the hardest hit areas, and then just the isolation-- they are alone,” Gazelka added.

Mayo Clinic Anesthesiologist Dr. Halena Gazelka says the increase was also affected by a change in drug supplies and more drugs being laced with Fentanyl.

“Patients with Substance Abuse Disorder did not necessarily have access to their typical drug dealer,” Gazelka explained. “They had unfamiliar drugs to use because the supply of heroin may have been decreased.”

Dr. Cynthia Townsend, the Clinical Director of Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation Center in Arizona, explains that 80 percent of Opioid abuse starts with a legit medical prescription.

“The Opioid epidemic came about in response to chronic pain, but it very much moved away from trying to gain a greater understanding of pain and it became about the Opioids,” Townsend said.

Mayo adds that addicts are not selfish and aren’t always able to cope using normal strategies.

Just like COVID-19, addiction does not discriminate .

"I have met people from every socioeconomic status, every age group [struggling with addiction,] Gazelka said. “Addiction is not a respecter of persons.”

“The moment that we suggest that we are not at risk is the moment we start to increasingly become at risk,” Townsend added.

Doctors are working to reallocate funds from reactive care to preventative care, but say it can be difficult to do.

“One of the things we can control is treating patients appropriately with opioids,” stressed Gazalka.

If you are struggling with an addiction or know of someone who is, you can call your primary caregiver.

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