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FINDING HOPE: Health officials worry opioids overdoses could spike again as COVID cases rise

Fentanyl Opioids CNN
Posted at 11:42 AM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 08:23:02-04

IDAHO — All 50 states saw a spike in overdose deaths in 2020 and now with the delta variant continuing to surge across the country, health officials worry the United States could see another spike in deaths related to opioids or other addiction-related problems.

An associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Paul Christo says history could repeat itself with delta cases rising and some turning to opioids for comfort.

Idaho resident drug mortality
Idaho saw 800 resident deaths from 2018-2020 due to drug overdoses.

280 people died in Idaho of a drug overdose in 2020 and so far in 2021, 161 people in Idaho have died of a drug overdose, according to the Department of Health and Welfare. Due to the stress of COVID-19 over the last year, a lot of people have lost coping mechanisms and turned to opioids as a result.

“People end up using, say these opioids or other substances like say stimulant drugs in times of need to cope with difficult situations,” Christo said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's website, "Researchers have observed increases in substance use and drug overdoses in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency in March 2020."

Since 2018, nearly 800 Idahoans have died from a drug overdose. According to data obtained by the Department of Health and Welfare, the rate slightly picked up in 2020, which Dr. Paul Christo says could be due to COVID-19 stress.

“It's completely understandable because we’ve seen a lot of economic hardship occur during COVID-19 that is, people are underemployed or unemployed, which certainly leads to stress. Also, there's been a lot of emotional hardships,” Christo said.

From 2018 to 2020, Ada County accounted for 236 deaths, Twin Falls County with 68 and Canyon County with 75. As the state sees record numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions, officials worry — we could see another spike.

“The economic hardships and the emotional hardships together and you get a huge decrease in the ability to cope with stress and I think that in turn has led people to use these mind- and mood-altering substances that have led to overdoses and deaths,” Christo said.

In 1990, there was an increase in opioid usage for patients with chronic pain which then led to more usage of opioids outside of a medical setting.

“Over time though, what we saw was a transition from prescription opioids to the use of heroin and over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the illicit use of fentanyl from the streets. You introduce a drug with rewarding properties to a vulnerable person at a vulnerable time in life. Well, COVID-19 has led to an extreme amount of vulnerability for many of us,” Christo said.

Confidential free help is available if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction. You can call 1-800-662-4357.