A troubling trend: Overdose deaths rise during COVID

Drug overdose deaths have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in April 2021, breaking a previous record for the most deaths ever recorded during a one-year period. This surge is driven in large part by fatalities from synthetic opioids and illegal fentanyl, according to a November report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Experts suspect that reasons for this uptick during COVID include social isolation under stay-at-home orders, stress at home, unemployment, and fear of the virus driving people to use drugs alone in their homes. The drugs themselves are changing too: Dealers often cut other drugs with fentanyl, which is relatively cheap to produce and about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Inexperienced drug users as well as those with a tolerance for opioids can fall victim to these inadvertent high doses of fentanyl. New data show that about 45% of people who died after consuming fentanyl in 2020 also tested positive for another drug, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, compared to about 40% the year before.

Another way the pandemic increased risk for overdose deaths is the disruption of drug treatment programs. When people in treatment are unable to get the help they need, the results can be devastating. This is part of why Comprehensive Healthcare is planning to expand substance use disorder services to other service area locations. Six providers will be credentialed to provide services so that all locations within Yakima, Benton, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Walla and Franklin counties will be able to offer Suboxone and other medication assisted treatment services. We also have ongoing treatment programs that are running on their normal schedule. See this page for a list of locations and services offered.

To help combat this surge in overdoses, some communities are reexamining the idea of supervised injection sites with trained staff on-hand to reverse overdoses. New York City authorized two such injection sites in Manhattan that began operating in November.

Here in Central Washington, especially in rural communities, services can often be harder to access, making addiction potentially more deadly. At Comprehensive Healthcare, we offer detox services, inpatient treatment, and medications to manage opioid addiction, among a host of other treatments for substance use disorders (SUD). Our SUD Treatment Services incorporate contemporary evidenced-based care and support services to deliver a customized treatment experience targeted to each individual.

We also provide mobile outreach and substance use assessments through our Hub and Spoke Team, designated to assist with opioid use. If you need help with a SUD, call one of our offices near you to set up an appointment. Hub and Spoke can be contacted at (509) 317-2713.

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