Fri | Dec 4, 2020

US overdose deaths appear to rise amid coronavirus pandemic

Published:Tuesday | October 20, 2020 | 2:10 PM
In this May 6, 2019 file photo an injection drug user deposits used needles into a container at the IDEA exchange in Miami. National data is incomplete, but available information suggests US drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high. Addiction experts blame the pandemic, which has left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programs, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, Fie)

Matthew Davidson was beating his heroin addiction.

The 31-year-old was attending group recovery meetings.

He had a restaurant job he liked.

He was a doting uncle to a baby nephew.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Davidson lost his job. He started staying home alone in his apartment near Georgetown, Kentucky — depressed and yearning for his recovery support group that had stopped gathering in person, said his cousin Melanie Wyatt.

On May 25, his girlfriend came home to find him dead of a drug overdose.

Davidson was part of a surge in overdose deaths that hit Kentucky this spring. May was its deadliest month for overdoses in at least five years. At the end of August, the state had seen almost as many overdose deaths as it had in all of 2019.

It is not alone.

National data is incomplete, but available information suggests US drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high. Addiction experts blame the pandemic, which has left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programs, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply.

Before the coronavirus even arrived, the US was in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history, with a record 71,000 overdose deaths last year.

This year’s tally likely will surpass that, according to preliminary death data from nine states reviewed by The Associated Press and national data on emergency responses to reported drug overdoses.

National numbers take months to tabulate, because tests and death investigations can take time even when medical examiners offices are not stretched thin by a pandemic.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a count through March, the month when COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths jumped in the Northeast and when stay-at-home orders and other virus measures began.

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