Public Health Experts Weigh In on the Impact of the Coronavirus on the Opioid Epidemic

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#HopeActLiveWI: Opioid Harm Prevention


Coronavirus and the Impact on Opioid Overdoses

To all local public health and tribal health staffs:

The press release, "State Health Agency Finds Behavioral Health Challenges are Compounded by COVID-19," has been published.

These have been extremely stressful times for individuals and communities, and there is a concern that adverse behavioral health outcomes may be increasing due to that stress. Since March 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has observed an uptick in suspected opioid overdoses.

Rapid data sources such as ambulance runs and syndromic emergency department (ED) hospital visits were examined to look at the near real-time impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key findings include the following:

  • There has been a decrease in ambulance runs and ED visits during the pandemic, suggesting that people are avoiding medical services unless absolutely necessary. However, it appears that the populations avoiding these services are different, with an older population avoiding EDs and a younger population not using ambulances.
  • Overall, Wisconsin has seen an increase in suspected opioid overdoses within both rapid data sources since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, suggesting that the current stress may be contributing to an increase in overdose incidents.

Because of this, DHS has concluded that there is cause for concern. The increase in societal stress may be contributing to an increase in opioid overdoses. The burden of these increases are community-specific and vary, suggesting that multiple factors are correlated with community increases in opioid overdoses.

We will continue to monitor the situation as the pandemic continues and as we move into phases of re-opening throughout Wisconsin. For more information on what the state is doing to combat the opioid crisis, visit the DHS opioids webpages. We will be in further communication as we learn more about the current situation.

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