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Stay-at-home orders increased overdose, research shows

COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were associated with increased opioid-related overdoses, according to a study from Pennsylvania. Prior to the pandemic, Pennsylvania had one of the country’s highest rates of overdose related to opioids, with 2,866 fatalities in 2018. Using data from the Pennsylvania Overdose Information Network, researchers compared monthly overdose reports before and during the state’s stay-at-home order, which began April 1, 2020.

“Our analysis of both fatal and nonfatal cases of opioid-related overdoses from January 2019 through July 2020 revealed statistically significant increases in overdose incidents for both men and women, among Whites and Blacks, and across several age groups, most notably the 30-39 and 40-49 groups, following April 1,”1 the authors reported. While multiple drugs were responsible, heroin and fentanyl were among the most common causes of overdose.

In a follow-up set of interviews with healthcare providers, the team found that unemployment, social isolation, depression, and anxiety were likely drivers of the increase in overdose.2 As one treatment counselor put it, “It’s not a good thing to be alone in your own thoughts. And so, once everybody was kind of locked down … the depression and anxiety hit.”

Published Sept. 15, 2021


1. King B, Patel R, Rishworth A. Assessing the Relationships Between COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders and Opioid Overdoses in the State of Pennsylvania. J Drug Issues. 2021. Published online ahead of print. May 28, 2021.

2. King B, Patel R, Rishworth A. “Opioid overdoses spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, data from Pennsylvania show”.

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