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Drug Overdose Deaths During COVID: Worse Than Expected

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Drug overdose deaths spiked dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nationwide a record 93,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2020, a 29% increase over the previous year. The state of Illinois saw more than a 27% increase in deaths.

While the numbers may be shocking, for some they weren’t surprising, that includes OSF Healthcare senior vice president of pharmacy services Jerry Storm.

“With the pandemic everybody's isolated, you’ve got a downturn in the economy and you had people unemployed. So when you're isolated and overdosing, even if you gave them Narcan there’s not going to be anyone there to help, to administer it, to reverse it. It’s the perfect storm with those three ingredients.”

At one time prescription painkillers were the focus of the overdose epidemic, but those have been overtaken by heroin and, more recently, fentanyl, a dangerously powerful opioid which in some cases is found to be contaminated with other substances. The CDC data suggests fentanyl was involved in more than 60% of the overdose deaths last year.

While it may be slow, there has been progress made to address the situation. Treatment facilities that were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions are reopening.