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University of California San Diego Health

Opioid-Related Overdose and Death Increase during Global Pandemic

In May, ambulance data recorded a 42 percent increase in overdose-related calls, nationwide

In 2019, nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, with many involving opioids. With the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many experts — including those at UC San Diego Health — fear this number will substantially increase in 2020.

“With the pandemic, many of us have experienced increased amounts of stress, anxiety and depression as we deal with stay-at-home orders, unemployment, decreased social contact and more,” said Daniel Lasoff, MD, emergency physician at UC San Diego Health. “This puts many individuals who are also dealing with substance use disorders in a very vulnerable position and we fear that many are turning back to substance use or using more often because there is no other outlet.”

According to Lasoff, national ambulance data showed a 42 percent increase for overdose-related calls in May. Concurrently, he said there has been a decline in patients presenting to emergency departments for care. 

“We’re concerned there are preconceived notions that the hospital is unsafe for fear of contracting COVID-19,” said Lasoff. “But we’re actually one of the safest places a person can be right now, and no one should delay emergency care.”

Of note:

  • The emergency department at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest is one of 52 hospitals statewide involved in the California Bridge Program, which increases access to treatment for substance use disorders, enhances initiation of long-term medication and processes referrals to outpatient clinics.
  • Since launching the program in February 2019, UC San Diego Health has helped more than 250 patients get treatment for their opioid abuse and more than 100 patients have been placed in long term care.
  • August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day.

Interviews are available with Lasoff and members of the California Bridge Program and Addiction Recovery and Treatment teams.

“We recognize substance use disorders as a treatable disease and through the bridge program, we can provide rapid, evidence-based treatment — regardless of insurance offerings — that enable patients to enter long-term treatment programs that work for them,” said Lasoff. “Ultimately we believe this saves lives, but the first step is coming to the emergency department at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest.”

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