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COVID-19 pandemic led to nearly 30% decline in Californians admitted to addiction facilities

COVID-19 pandemic led to a nearly 30% decline in Californians admitted to addiction treatment facilities even as drug overdose deaths spike in US, study finds

  • A new study found the number of Californians admitted to addiction treatment centers decreased by 28% during the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Increased social isolation caused by the pandemic led to an increase in opioid addiction last year
  • Drop in use of the centers corresponds with a 30% increase in drug addiction deaths nationwide, according to a new CDC report 
  • Researcher say many did not seek treatment for their addictions last year out of fear of the virus, leading to a spike in deaths 

The number of Californians who were admitted into addiction treatment centers dramatically fell amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) gathered data from centers around the state. 

They found that the number of admittances declined by nearly 30 percent over 2020.

It comes on the heels of a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that a record 93,000 drug overdose deaths occurred last year, a 29.4 percent increase over the 72,000 from 2019.

There was a 28% reduction in admittances into addiction treatment centers in California during the pandemic. The decrease is paired with a spike in opioid deaths around the country

Provisional CDC data show there were 93,331 drug overdose deaths recorded in the U.S. in 2020, a 29.4% jump from 72,151 deaths reported in 2019

Provisional CDC data show there were 93,331 drug overdose deaths recorded in the U.S. in 2020, a 29.4% jump from 72,151 deaths reported in 2019

For the study, published in JAMA Network Open on Wednesday, the team looked at data from January 2019 through October 2020 at treatment centers across the state.

They counted March 2020 through October 2020 as being part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 14 previous months as pre-pandemic. 

In the 14 months before the pandemic, an average of 12,544 Californians were admitted into facilities.

That average fell down to 8,994, a 28 percent decrease from before the pandemic.

Drops were consistent across gender, race, ethnicity, education, parental status or whether the patient was previously hospitalized for their addiction.

Larger drops were seen with young people under the age of 25 and people who were employed. 

The drop in usage of treatment during the pandemic was not a problem specific to opioid addiction last year. 

The World Health Organization predicts that the true worldwide death toll of the pandemic in 2020 was eight million – more than twice the official COVID death count of 3.4 million last year. 

Many people avoided receiving treatment for a variety of conditions like heart disease, diabetes and others last year due to social distancing guidelines put in place during the pandemic.

Avoiding treatment could have a been a death sentence, however, as people’s conditions deteriorated as they were not receiving medical treatment.

This occurred with those struggling with opioid addiction as well, as the pandemic disrupted treatment programs. 

Deaths from drug overdoses were up by 30% last year as many people did not seek treatment for their addiction

Deaths from drug overdoses were up by 30% last year as many people did not seek treatment for their addiction

‘Individuals may have been reluctant to seek addiction treatment for fear of becoming infected with [COVID],’ the researchers wrote. 

‘Greater outreach and assurance about the safety of treatment during the pandemic may have allayed these concerns. The decline may also reflect the inability of addiction treatment organizations to treat as many patients as before the pandemic.’

The pandemic also caused long spells of social isolation for many, leaving them more vulnerable to addiction. 

The team believes health and government officials could have done more to get people to the treatment that they needed, and prevented deaths. 

‘More rapid and robust government intervention to facilitate the acquisition of personal protective equipment, telehealth equipment, additional staff, and space to deliver socially distanced services may have helped maintain access,’ they wrote.

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