VCU Medical Center sees surge in opioid overdoses during pandemic

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The number of nonfatal opioid overdose visits to the VCU Medical Center’s emergency department this spring was over double last spring’s visits. According to a paper published by the Journal of American Medical Association, the center saw 102 nonfatal overdoses between March and June of 2019 and 227 between March and June of 2020.

Overall VCU says the emergency department experienced a lower-than-average number of visits. Total visits were down 29% from the same period last year while the overdose visits were up by 123%.

“Social isolation, job loss, the inaccessibility of community resources — these could all contribute to the overdoses we’re observing,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Taylor Ochalek, who works in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the VCU School of Medicine.

Demographic data examined in the study found that most patients were 73% of nonfatal overdose patients this year were male. Of the patients visiting the emergency room in Richmond, 44% of them were uninsured. Both of these demographics were relatively similar last year as well.

A demographic that saw significant changes this year was race, Black patients increased from 63% in 2019 to 80% in 2020.

“Health disparities have been magnified during the pandemic,” Ochalek said. “I hope this study provides a baseline of data for future research into reasons for the increase, mitigation efforts, longitudinal outcomes for patients and further overdose data.”

VCU Health provides referrals to treatment resources, such as clinics, rehabilitation centers and clinical trials, that direct overdose patients into individualized care. A majority receive prescriptions for naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug.

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