COVID-19 saves many lives but more should wait. Deaths from nonfatal overdoses up 3 in 4 Month Time Period

A surge in severe infections and deaths from nonfatal overdoses related to COVID-19 in the United States and Europe in the month of July should have prompted a brief pause in the overall rise in U. S. drug overdose deaths for the first time since the end of a two-month global pandemic a new study suggests.

Suicide and drug overdose cases increased by approximately 30 and 51 over the month (July 19-30) to an average of 22. 8 overdose deaths per day. The increases were much less steep in Europe where the number of drug overdose deaths fell from an average of 36. 9 per day to 24. 9 per day and was below a 20 cumulative average of a peak in mid-July at 93. 5 overdose deaths per day according to the study published Monday in JAMA Network Open.

Since COVID-19 was declared the global pandemic drug overdose deaths have continued to increase annually in the United States said the studys lead author Dr. Daniel Becker of the Center for Health Policy Studies in the University of California Los Angeles and Harvard Medical School who did the research.

This pilot study suggests that up to one million lives a year may be saved by a return to a relatively low level of nearby drug overdose deaths Becker said by email.

In the U. S. the number of drug overdose deaths in August 2018 mirrored the average over the past two years Becker and colleagues write in PLOS One. Globally the number of drug overdose deaths was at an average of 2835 the lowest in 20 years until August 2016 streak whooping cough shots blue bandanas gabapentin and fentanyl.

In July drug overdose deaths were higher in five of the 10 countries where death rates rose by the most with the highest increases in Belgium Germany Ireland and Sweden. In contrast the number of deaths in North America more than doubled to an average of 30 per day from 19 deaths per day from mid-October to mid-July the researchers note.

Between August 2017 and December 2018 rates of fatal overdoses in the United States rose mainly in the Hispanic population and jumped by more than 12 to about 40 per day from 24. 5 fatal overdoses a day. The dip was much less steep for Europe where the number of drug overdose deaths rose by 7. 6 to about 31 per day from 30. 8 deaths per day a year earlier.

Overall at home deaths from acute drug overdoses rose for the first time since the start of the pandemic the researchers calculate.

Drug overdose deaths in most of the 10 countries increased by 27 in July but only Brazil Mexico and South Africa began rising again during the month as cases decreased in many of those countries the study indicates.

The study cant prove whether or how the United States might have seen a more significant reduction in drug overdose deaths or if other factors might have affected the latest rise.

One limitation of the analysis is that researchers didnt find statistically meaningful increases in deaths related to pharmaceuticals alcohol or illegal drugs.

Even so the overall diminishing trend suggests a need for caution in the buildup of doses of opioids for COVID-19 said Dr. Felipe Roldan of the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid.

Instead of having 47 to 63 lower mortality rates we are seeing 30 or 33 lower and if the actual finding is confirmed we will have to take a much closer look at this result Roldan who wasnt involved in the study said by email.

This is a real worry said William White a professor at the University of Mississippi in Jackson who wasnt involved in the analysis.

It is true that selected industrialized high-income nations (e. g. the United States) have seen a statistically significant drop in drug overdose deaths during the last 14 weeks relative with COVID-19 White said by email. However this appears to continue in a consistent and sustained pattern through April 2020.