U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Resurge to Record During the Pandemic
22 October 2020: U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Resurge to Record During the Pandemic
Drug overdose deaths in the USA rose to a record high in 2019, after falling for the first time for 25 years in 2018. Almost 72,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2019 according to the preliminary data that was released by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year.
Though there is currently no hard data available, there is speculation that the pandemic is complicating and worsening the surge, as 2020 looks to be even more devastating than 2019. Data collected by The New York Times saw for the first half of 2020 drug overdose deaths have risen by an average of 13 percent across America compared to last year. If this trend continues into the rest of the year, it will be the sharpest rise in annual drug deaths since 2016, when fentanyl made its way into US drug trafficking and street supply.
Increased funding toward addiction treatment, prevision and recovery services did shows signs of improving overdose deaths. Though the government has made this positive headway in the last few years in how they tackle the drug epidemic in America, this progress could be threatened by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier in the month, Brett Giroir, the administration’s assistant secretary for health, said in a statement, “We understand that there is an extraordinary amount of work to do, especially now as we are also dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic that could markedly affect our nation’s mental health and risk of substance use.”
Several public health experts said conditions created by the pandemic could hurt the nation’s fragile progress in fighting the surge of drug deaths but noted that the overdose rate was on its way back up well before the virus arrived. “Covid just makes it a bit worse,” said Dr. Dan Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies the opioid epidemic. “It’s a small wave riding on top of a tsunami that continues to devastate.”
Although official statistics on 2020 overdose deaths won’t be available for a long time, there is local evidence showing drug related deaths are rising into 2020.
Increase in Drug related deaths from 2019 through the first portion of 2020
Though a lot of this data precedes the coronavirus pandemic, researchers believe there are several reasons why the virus could worsen the trend.
When state lockdowns first began in March, Dr. Anna Lembke, a clinician with Stanford’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, noticed many of her patients showing signs of improving. “Many patients described a kind of peacefulness without the constant hubbub of modern life and the constant triggers they’re exposed to,” she said.
However, in response to the virus, the US government has done something unheard-of: it relaxed rules and regulations around prescribing methadone and buprenorphine, two commonly prescribed opioid addiction treatments. Patients no longer needed to attend daily in person appointments to receive their methadone prescriptions and could instead be given 4 weeks’ worth at a time. Doctors no longer need to meet in person to prescribe buprenorphine.
This was initially celebrated as a positive change, however as the pandemic has progressed and people have remained isolated, lockdown has become harmful to people with mental health issues and drug addiction disorders.
“Social isolation has always been a huge component of drug overdose risk,” said Traci Green, an epidemiologist at Brown University who studies drug abuse and addiction. “So much of what we’ve been trying to do has been completely unravelled.”
Experts have pointed to other dangers lockdown poses such as;
- Lack of revival fall back from other users due to an increase in solo drug users
- Less emotional support as in person visits are scaled back
- Inconsistent drug strength and quality
- Supply or income disruption leading to inconsistent drug use habits and accidental overdose
Using our revolutionary Biochip Array Technology, the Evidence MultiSTAT is a fully automated benchtop analyser that enables onsite, simultaneous testing for up to 21 classical, synthetic or prescription drugs from a single sample in under 20 minutes. This quick and highly reliable technology makes it perfect for use in hospitals and medical centres, as pressure increases with the rising number of drug overdose deaths in the US.
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Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic
On 31 December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China, reported a cluster of 27 pneumonia cases (including seven severe cases) of unknown aetiology, with a common reported link to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a wholesale fish and live animal market. On 23 January 2020, Wuhan City was locked down – with all travel in and out of Wuhan prohibited –and movement inside the city was restricted.
By March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, with more than 150 countries worldwide being affected. Many countries, including the UK; imposed stringent public health measures that included the closure of businesses & strict social distancing guidelines.
Due to the enforced lockdown, many within the UK workforce had to make alternative working arrangements, with working from home becoming the new norm. With the closure of businesses and the hospitality sector including bars and restaurants, it meant people seeking alternative means to purchase and consume alcohol.
Before the pandemic, alcohol was attributed to being a financial burden to the UK health system and wider economy. The British Medical Journal estimated that alcohol costs the NHS more than £3.5 billion and the wider economy at least £21bn each year.
The organisation Alcohol Change UK commissioned new research to look at whether people’s drinking habits changed during the COVID-19 lockdown. Over 2,000 people completed the survey, with results weighted to ensure they were representative of the UK population.
The key takeaway from the report is people are consuming alcohol differently because of the lockdown. Around one in five drinkers (21%) told us that they have been drinking more frequently since the lockdown. This suggests that around 8.6 million UK adults are drinking more frequently under lockdown.
Furthermore, while almost half of drinkers said they were drinking about the same amount on a typical drinking day, 15% said they have been drinking more per session since lockdown.
The Global Drug Survey produced a special report for COVID-19 with more than 80,000 participants. The report stated that 44% of those who participated said the frequency of alcohol use increased. Reasons for this included ‘having more time to drink and feeling bored more often.’ However, 25.5% reported having decreased their use of alcohol during COVID-19.
As restrictions begin to ease and more people return to work, it is important to highlight the impact of COVI-19 on the workforce. People’s way of life has changed dramatically, with this change comes different ways of consuming alcohol. It is important to note that the figures above are a proportionate representation based on those who took part, but valuable insights can be gained when looking at alcohol use. For employers who have staff returning to work, their safety is of paramount importance. This will include effectively managing substance misuse, should it be an issue in the workplace.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol’s impact on your body starts from the moment you take your first sip. While an occasional glass of wine or beer isn’t a cause for concern, the cumulative effects of drinking wine, beer, or spirits can take its toll.
Consumption of alcohol can impact various parts of the body. Effects can range from weakening of the immune and digestive system, to inflammation and sugar level issues.
Our ‘Effects Of’ Series provides educational posters that can be displayed in workplaces to highlight the dangers of alcohol. Click here for more information.
About Randox Testing Services
Randox Testing Services are a specialist in the workplace drug & alcohol testing sector. We provide a wide range of testing for companies who want to reduce the impact of substance misuse in the workplace. With a range of service options and expert staff on hand to provide help and training, our services will help to eradicate the impact of drugs and alcohol.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, RTS have continued to provide drug & alcohol testing services. At all times, we have ensured our staff are equipped to provide sensible advice and flexible solutions to drug & alcohol testing.
We have provided each Collection Officer with full PPE to ensure they meet requirements for personal and professional safety. Full social distancing guidelines are followed at all times when possible whilst conducting testing. We will continue to advise and navigate companies through this period as more businesses return and testing is required.
If you have any questions regarding drug & alcohol testing, contact us today.
Phone: +44 (0) 28 9445 1011
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