When Illinois issued stay-at-home orders back in March 2020, the obvious intent was to lower risk for transmission of COVID-19 and, ultimately, to save lives. By the time the order was lifted 11 weeks later, the state was wrestling with an unintended consequence of a higher rate of deaths attributed to opioid overdose. A Cook County-based study of such deaths, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed there were 23 fatalities per week between January 2018 and December 2020. Over the 15-week period beginning December 2019, the death rate related to opioid addiction increased to 35.1 per week. During the 11-week stay-at-home period, however, it jumped to 44.1 deaths per week. Once the order was lifted, it fell back to 32.7 deaths per week. The fluctuation was attributed to several factors. Due to social distancing there were disruptions in addiction treatment services, and in access to lifesaving naloxone. In addition, people who were already addicts now found themselves having to cope with major life changes, thereby increasing their perceived need to use. Third, and somewhat counterintuitively, scarcer availability of opioid drugs themselves led to greater reliance on synthetic, street versions of fentanyl and other drugs that have proven more deadly than the real thing. Would you know what steps to take upon learning that a new patients is addicted to opioid medications? Read The Potential Role of Urgent Care in Addressing the Opiate Epidemic in the JUCM archive to find out.

Unintended Consequences: Stay-at-Home Orders Are Being Linked to Opioid-Related Deaths