As COVID-19, or CoronaVirus, has swept across the nation, let us not forget the other epidemic that has been an ongoing battle - opioid overdose deaths - which continues to leave death in its wake and was, until just a few months ago, considered to be the greatest public health crisis of this generation.
Though there is no question that COVID-19 is deadly, with more than 90,000 deaths in the U.S since January of 2020, opioids are equally as deadly. Opioids have taken approximately 450,000 lives between 1999 and 2017. In the year 2018 alone there were 67,367 deaths involving opioids, which is a slight improvement, about 4% fewer, in comparison to the year prior.
Submissions of suspected overdose to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Overdose Data Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) from January to April of this year are up 16.6% versus the same time period last year, 2019, according to an ODMAP report.
The amount of fatal overdoses are up 11.4% over the same period, and nonfatal overdoses increased by 18.6%. The increasing trend continued into early May, with overdose cases up 8% just in the first six days of the month. (ODMAP report was published May 13.)
The data suggests that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a sharp increase in overdose cases. The rise in overdoses in 2020 has surpassed the program's projections based on historical data.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner in Wisconsin has confirmed 155 overdose deaths thus far in 2020. The county had 158 overdose deaths throughout the entire year of 2019.
In Chicago, Illinois more than twice as many people have died, or are suspected to have died, of opioid overdoses in the first five months of the year in Cook County, when compared to the same period last year (according to a ProPublica Illinois analysis of medical examiner's office death records). There have been at least 924 confirmed or suspected overdose deaths as of the end of May, 2020, while there were only 461 at this time last year.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, there are public resources to assist. Bear River Health is a substance use recovery center for individuals with co-occuring disorders that provides individualized guidance down the pathway to recovery.