LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Disruptions from COVID-19 have produced a different kind of grim statistic: Drug overdoses increased nationally as people became isolated, and Kentucky fared worse than most.
New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal overdose deaths during COVID increased 26.8% nationally over the previous year.
Kentucky ranked third behind Louisiana and Washington, D.C. with an increase of 49.2%. Indiana saw a rise of 31.4%.
“In order to establish new connections, you can’t make those connections if you can’t go to meetings, [or] if you can’t go to any of the events, fundraisers, so much magic that happens in recovery,” Erin Willinger, the program coordinator for Seven Counties Addiction Recovery Center, said, “and it just feels like because of the pandemic, people that are new to sobriety were cut off from the magical part that helps us to recover.”
The numbers are not surprising to emergency room doctors. UofL Health listed over a thousand overdose cases in 2020. That would translate into one every eight hours.
“We try to get good messaging out there,” UofL attending physician Dr. Martin Huecker said. “Come into the ER and come to the centers before you’ve reached that point where you are overdosing, probably fentanyl involved, and maybe you die and we don’t get to you in time.”
Some worry the problem may get worse as isolation, unemployment, and other stresses have addicts seeking a high and abandoning treatment.
“I have friends with long-term sobriety who said in the middle of the pandemic that they had relapsed,” Willinger said. “People with four years, five years. The connection was diminished so much [that] people lost their lives.”