PA Highlights Impact of COVID-19 on Individuals with Substance Use Disorders

Pennsylvania outlined the impacts of COVID-19 on people living with substance use disorders and highlighted projects and collaborations made possible through the opioid disaster declaration’s creation of the Opioid Command Center.

“As we continue to evaluate 2020 overdose trends, we are seeing a significant uptick in fatal overdoses,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “We know that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges for people with the disease of addiction. Because of the disaster declaration in place, the entire Opioid Command Center, including the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, is able to offer a variety of support to people in need.”

While the 2020 counts are expected to increase further since finalized death records for overdose deaths are often delayed into the following year, there have been 4,880 drug overdose deaths reported thus far. This preliminary data, as of March 2021, indicates there were at least 422 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019. Since the overdose epidemic began, the most overdose deaths in Pennsylvania during a single year was 5,396 in 2017.

To understand potential reasons for the increase in overdose deaths and to identify opportunities to assist, the Opioid Command Center is holding meetings with counties, including Pike, Cambria, Allegheny, and Lebanon, that experienced the most significant increases in overdoses during 2020. Meeting topics include fatal overdoses, emergency department visits for overdose, and EMS naloxone administrations and strategies to reduce overdoses at a local level.

“The state and local partnerships brought together by the command center have never been more important,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “As we navigate the coming months and impacts of COVID-19 on individuals with a substance use disorder and those in recovery, the Wolf Administration is committed to continuing the fight to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to necessary, life-saving resources.”