Comparison of Characteristics of Deaths from Drug Overdose before vs during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Rhode Island

Alexandria Macmadu, Sivakumar Batthala, Annice M. Correia Gabel, Marti Rosenberg, Rik Ganguly, Jesse L. Yedinak, Benjamin D. Hallowell, Rachel P. Scagos, Elizabeth A. Samuels, Magdalena Cerdá, Kimberly Paull, Brandon D.L. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Importance: The rate of deaths from overdose has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recent US overdose mortality rates have been markedly high. However, scant data are available on the causes of this increase or subpopulations at elevated risk. Objective: To evaluate the rates and characteristics of deaths from drug overdose before vs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design, Setting, and Participants: This retrospective, population-based cohort study used data from 4 statewide databases linked at the person level via the Rhode Island Data Ecosystem on adults with deaths due to overdose in Rhode Island from January 1 to August 31, 2019, and January 1 to August 31, 2020. Main Outcomes and Measures: The rates of unintentional deaths from drug-related overdose during the 2019 and 2020 observation periods overall and by sociodemographic characteristics, drugs contributing to the cause of death, location of death, and socioeconomic factors were evaluated. In subgroup analyses restricted to Medicaid beneficiaries (n = 271), the proportions of deaths from overdose by behavioral health treatment and diagnosis claims in the year before death were also examined. Results: A total of 470 adults who died of drug overdose were included in the analysis (353 men [75%]; mean [SD] age, 43.5 [12.1] years). The rate of deaths from overdose in Rhode Island increased 28.1%, from 29.2 per 100 000 person-years in 2019 to 37.4 per 100 000 person-years in 2020 (P =.009). Compared with 2019, rates of deaths due to overdose during 2020 were higher among men (43.2 vs 59.2 per 100000 person-years; P =.003), non-Hispanic White individuals (31.0 vs 42.0 per 100000 person-years; P =.005), single individuals (54.8 vs 70.4 per 100000 person-years; P =.04), deaths involving synthetic opioids (20.8 vs 28.3 per 100000 person-years; P =.005), and deaths occurring in a personal residence (13.2 vs 19.7 per 100000 person-years; P =.003). A decrease in the proportion of deaths from overdose involving heroin (11 of 206 [5%] vs <2% [exact value suppressed]; P =.02) and an increase among persons experiencing job loss (16 of 206 [8%] vs 41 of 264 [16%]; P =.01) from 2019 to 2020 were observed. Among individuals who died of overdose and were Medicaid beneficiaries, the proportions of those aged 50 to 59 years with anxiety (11 of 121 [9%] vs 29 of 150 [19%]; P =.03), men with depression (27 of 121 [22%] vs 57 of 150 [38%]; P =.008), and men with anxiety (28 of 121 [23%] vs 55 of 150 [37%]; P =.02) increased during 2020 compared with 2019. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, during the first 8 months of 2020, the rate of deaths from overdose increased in Rhode Island compared with the same period in 2019, and several emerging characteristics of deaths from drug overdose during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic were identified. These findings may inform interventions that address macroenvironmental changes associated with the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2125538
JournalJAMA Network Open
Volume4
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 17 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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