Overdose deaths up compared to 2019
July 14, 2020
The number of overdose deaths in New Hampshire has increased by about 30% since last year, according to new data from the Medical Examiner’s Office.
In May, the state reported 45 fatal overdoses, compared to 35 in May of 2019. The majority of the overdoses this year involved a combination of fentanyl and other drugs, followed by fentanyl alone. The state has had the highest rate of fentanyl overdose deaths per capita in the United States for many years, according to a study published in April.
Overdose deaths in 2020 had been relatively consistent with the 2019 numbers until April when the number spiked.
Jake Berry, the vice president of policy at health nonprofit New Futures, attributes this increase to the pandemic, which has created a number of risk factors for those struggling with addiction, such as economic instability and anxiety.
Many addiction advocates predicted this spike. Early in the pandemic, very few people were going to emergency rooms for help with substance abuse which, Berry said, likely meant people weren’t getting the help they needed.
Manchester and Nashua contained the majority of the deaths while Concord had only two confirmed fatal overdoses in 2020.
Jeff Stewart, the director of Project FIRST, said in the city of Concord, there has been a 31% increase in the number of both fatal and nonfatal overdoses since 2019. While COVID-19 has certainly been a contributing factor to the increase, he said the pandemic has also exposed many shortcomings in addiction treatment like a lack of collaborative resources that target homelessness, addiction, and mental health.
“I don’t want people to think COVID-19 is an easy out,” he said.
New Hampshire has consistently had one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the country. In 2019, New Hampshire ranked third for the most overdoses per 100,000 people. Berry said the state started making a dent in the opioid crisis last year. A treatment system for addiction was expanded and the number of overdoses was steadily declining.
When the pandemic struck, the system started to unravel.
“Treatment providers had to reinvent what they were doing on the fly,” he said.
Furthermore, local addiction treatment centers have struggled financially during the pandemic, despite having received money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
Stewart said the rate of overdose deaths isn’t always an accurate measure of opioid abuse. He said the decline of fatal overdoses in 2019 might be attributed to the increased availability of Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose. He added that many community members treat each other with Narcan, rather than going to the emergency room, which may further skew the data.
He said a more accurate measure of the problem might be the number of people entering treatment programs for opioid addiction, which the state may start using as a measure instead.
Despite the jarring numbers, Berry said this could be just the beginning of the consequences of COVID-19.
“This has aggravated the system to an extent that we won’t fully recognize until further down the road,” he said.