Researchers Discover Rise in Opioid Overdoses During Pandemic

opioid overdoses

Real-time data monitoring tool yields sobering statistics regarding opioid overdoses

Using a real-time data monitoring tool, researchers from Michigan Medicine discovered a 15 percent rise in suspected opioid overdoses since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tool also showed a 29 percent rise in first responders’ use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose if given in time. Deaths started to increase soon after the virus began spreading in Michigan, while naloxone use decreased before rising in the spring and summer.

Developed in partnership with the Michigan HIDTA, a federal program that tracks drug trafficking, the real-time data system gathers information from EMS agencies and medical examiners across most of Michigan.

The System for Opioid Overdose Surveillance (SOS) presents data down to an approximate location in a secure dashboard that first responders and public health authorities can use to target opioid prevention and response efforts.

The SOS made critical data available in a timely way, with daily updates from most sources. The system has also revealed some significant associations between the current health crisis and the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“While we don’t have a cause-and-effect explanation for what we’re seeing, we know that in the first few months after the pandemic arrived in Michigan, many people were avoiding emergency departments unless they had severe symptoms of COVID-19,” said IPC director Patrick Carter, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

The pandemic could have an indirect influence on the increasing numbers of opioid-related fatalities.

“The increase in opioid-related fatalities during those initial months appears to fit this pattern,” Carter stated.

“The isolation and stress of the pandemic, the loss of jobs and therefore insurance that might cover substance abuse treatment, and even changes in how people have gathered during these months may all play a role in how people are using opioids, including relapsing during recovery. Efforts to distribute naloxone and engage in peer counseling also decreased during the early months of the pandemic, as public health agencies focused on the virus.”

The SOS tool showed that early in 2020, between 30 and 40 Michigan residents died of a suspected overdose each week. However, when coronavirus surged during mid-March, that number topped 40 a week and kept rising through early June. The number didn’t fall to the figures seen in the early weeks of 2020 until late August.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, HealthITAnalytics

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