Coronavirus Relief Funds May Lead To Increased Opioid Overdoses

Published: January 15, 2021

Hamilton County, TN – Newly released data from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Drug Overdose Reporting Systems shows that opioid overdoses spiked over 30% state-wide in the months of May and June 2020 following COVID-19 shutdowns, and the first coronavirus relief package. 

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Nationwide, 2020 saw a record year-over-year number of opioid overdose deaths. 

“This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States and is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded,” the CDC stated. 

Since the spike last year in Tennessee, opioid overdoses have decreased significantly every month. 

When Hamilton County Coalition’s Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist Vanessa Spotts saw the announcement of a second stimulus, she started taking steps to get ahead of another potential spike of overdoses in Tennessee. 

Spotts stated, “Our first concern was contacting law enforcement and emergency services across the 10 counties we serve in Southeast Tennessee to ensure they are well supplied with Narcan and resources on treatment and recovery.”  

Naloxone Hydrochloride, also known as Narcan, is an emergency medication that can reverse an opiate overdose. 

“We’re also continuing to work with our community partners to identify and target areas and individuals that might be high-risk to provide as many resources as possible to save and change lives,” Spotts said. 

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According to Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., director of the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, “The pandemic is impacting those with opioid use disorder in many similar ways to how it is impacting everyone. Increased isolation, stress and anxiety are exacerbating symptoms for many of those who suffer from mental health disorders such as depression.” 

She adds that stress is an important trigger for relapse to drug use in those who are successfully abstaining.  

In addition, many recovery support services have historically been provided in group settings and there is reduced capacity for this due to social distancing.  

Loss of jobs and income may create challenges for individuals to seek or remain in treatment due to costs. 

Psychiatrist Nora Volkow M.D., in a recent study, found that there is reason to be concerned that people with substance use disorders (SUDs) may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and its most adverse health outcomes. 

The collaborative study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, found that people with SUDs were significantly overrepresented among those with COVID-19, making up 15.6% of the COVID-19 group versus just 10.3% of the total sample.  

Risk of COVID-19 was highest among those who had received a diagnosis of SUD within the past year.  

As of January 14th, Hamilton County Health Department reported 228 new cases of COVID-19 increasing the total number to 35,328 with 323 related deaths. 

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