The number of drug overdose deaths in Missouri and Kansas rose 19.8% and 23.9% respectively last year, according to data released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While overdose deaths had been on the rise in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest data verified fears of a surge.
Nationally, overdose deaths rose almost 30% to a record 93,331 in 2020.
Two of the biggest drivers behind the increase in overdose deaths, according to the CDC, appear to be a rise in mental health issues stemming from COVID-induced isolation and the resulting financial recession, as well as an increased prevalence of fentanyl in the illicit drug market.
“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” former CDC Director Robert Redfield said back in December when preliminary overdose data for 2020 was released.
COVID-related lockdown measures and social distancing orders kept many of those struggling with addiction-related issues away from their loved ones, mental healthcare providers and others in their support systems-- thus exacerbating a spike in those reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.
“An addict alone is in bad company,” Jeff Howard, CEO of Midwest Recovery Centers said, repeating a slogan that is popular in the recovery community.
The prevalence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been, perhaps, the primary contributor to the spike in overdose deaths. Fentanyl is now involved in more deaths than any other illicit drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration
“In the Kansas city region, we are just seeing a tremendous increase in the amount of fentanyl in the area. Eighteen months ago, the vast majority of people who came into my clinic were using opioids like heroin, or oxycodone. Now I would say 75% of the people we’re seeing have fentanyl in their systems, “ Dr. Douglas Burgess, Director of Addiction Services at Truman Medical Center, said.
In February, the Kansas City Police Department said that officers have encountered increasing accidental overdose deaths among teenagers who are using pills laced with fentanyl.
“This is not necessarily experimentation gone wrong because they didn’t know what they were doing,’‘ Jamie Boyle, President and CEO of Welcome House KC, a residential, not-for-profit, sober living recovery provider, said in reference to a handful of long-term drug users he personally knew who overdosed on fentanyl over the past year.
“They got something, they used it and they didn’t know what was in it, and it killed them.”
In 2019, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) was awarded a 3-year $9.3 million cooperative agreement from the CDC to support prevention efforts to address the opioid and drug overdose crisis.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse related issues, please contact the SAMSHA confidential hotline, also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).