ED Visits for Opioid Overdoses Up 29% Amid Pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic emergency departments (ED) across America have seen a rise in admissions due to mental health concerns and drug overdoses, according to a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Specifically, researchers found that ED visits for opioid overdoses were up nearly 29% year-over-year. Additionally, when compared to 2019, the weekly rate of ED admissions for overall drug overdoses in 2020 increased by up to 45% from mid-April on.

To reach those findings, the study’s authors compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP), examining ED admissions between December 2018 and November 2020.


The NSSP statistics include approximately 70% of the nation’s ED visits, with data coming from more than 3,500 EDs across 48 states and Washington, D.C. For the study, researchers looked at behavioral health admissions specifically and classified them into six different categories: mental health conditions, opioid overdoses, overdoses from other substances, suicide attempts, domestic violence outcomes and child abuse and neglect.

Of the nearly 190 million total ED visits NSSP reported, researchers found that rates of admission for those behavioral health causes increased during the period from mid-March to October 2020 when compared to the same time period a year prior.

Researchers also looked at total weekly ED visits over the same period. After the declaration of a national emergency on March 13, overall ED visit decreased. However, the number of behavioral health-related ED visits increased. The study additionally notes that overdose ED admissions, in particular, showed large weekly increases in 2020 compared to the previous year.


The findings come after the CDC recently reported an uptick in individuals experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues to coincide with the pandemic. Plus, last year saw a record number of overdose deaths from substances such as opioids, according to the CDC. 

The new study further highlights the negative toll the coronavirus has taken on Americans.

“This study’s findings underscore the need for continued [mental health condtion], suicide, [overdose], and violence prevention messages, screening, and interventions at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels, as well as longitudinal surveillance to track the long-term impacts of COVID-19,” the authors wroted in the report.

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