Opioid overdoses increase during pandemic

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Nonfatal opioid overdose visits to the emergency room increased 123 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) examined data from VCU Medical Center emergency department visits between March and June. In 2019, these visits totaled 102, but in 2020, they increased to 227.

For the same timeframe, emergency room visits for any reason decreased 29 percent.

When broken down by demographic group, the majority of the patients were male, and nearly half were uninsured. The numbers were consistent when researchers compared 2019 to 2020.

When looking at race, researchers discovered the percentage of Black patients increased 17 percent.

“Social isolation, job loss, the inaccessibility of community resources — these could all contribute to the overdoses we’re observing,” Dr.Taylor Ochalek, the study’s lead author, said. “Health disparities have been magnified during the pandemic. I hope this study provides a baseline of data for future research into reasons for the increase, mitigation efforts, longitudinal outcomes for patients, and further overdose data.”

Ochalek is from the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and is a postdoctoral research fellow at the VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

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