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Medical experts warn of possible increase in opioid overdose deaths as Delta variant spreads

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 6:48 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Medical professionals are warning of a possible increase in opioid overdose deaths during the spread of the Delta variant.

A pain medicine specialist with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine talks about the alarming rise in deaths due to illegal opioids.

“Certainly during the pandemic it’s been a huge period of stress for everyone,” said Dr. Paul Christo.

He is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who said those stressors escalated illegal opioid use during the pandemic. According to Christo, counterfeit opioids containing fentanyl are being manufactured in China and brought to the U.S. from Mexico.

“People are seeing loved ones enter the hospital, get sick, ICU and die,” said Christo. “So you’ve got a huge economic stressor and you’ve got emotional stress that I think combined has led people to use more frequent these mind and mood altering substances.”

The CDC reports there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2019. That number rose to over 90,000 in 2020, over 69,000 involving opioids.

“We’re also seeing here is overdoses related to psychostimulants like methamphetamine,” added Christo. “So these drugs I’m talking about like Percocet for example, hydrocodone also being laced with these stimulants like methamphetamine and leading to death.”

Rankin County Coroner David Ruth said he was surprised that during the pandemic the number of deaths was lower than he expected. He was not able to provide data.

While in Madison County Coroner Alex Breeland said he has not seen a lot of change in the number of opioid deaths in the last year and a half.

Those figures were not available, but he said the numbers were fairly consistent with 2018.

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