COVID is on the retreat in Connecticut and much of the nation and world. Whether it is the effect of vaccinating those most at risk, the cumulative effective of masking and social distancing or the virus is just getting tired (hopefully not just resting before a new variant-fueled surge), cases are in rapid decline. The COVID ACT-Now map, which in January was solid dark red, indicating uncontrolled outbreak, is now more orange than red, and I predict in a day or two Connecticut will also turn from red to yellow, indicating the level has gone from active outbreak to at risk of outbreak. (Never mind, I just checked it again and it has officially turned orange).
Our hospital is down to less than 10 COVID patients in the hospital and I have gone two days without having to notify EMS of any COVID positives they transported. When I work the street, I still gown up, but the patients with SATs in the 70s are nowhere to be found.
Our Governor has announced he is loosening a number of restrictions, with more to follow. I sure hope this is not just another lull.
But the other pandemic is still raging. A newly released study published in JAMA looking at emergency department visits for opioid overdoses showed a 29% in the period March to October 2020 over the same period in 2019. Today, I read the latest data from the state public health department and the office of the Connecticut Medical Examiner. In 2019, 1200 people lost their lives to overdoses in Connecticut. For 2020, the number stands currently at 1,359 with 78 cases pending review. That’s an increase of 13% and threatening to go higher. Early data from January shows 48 deaths in the first two weeks with 170 pending cases beyond then. Every day, as part of my job, I read the Connecticut SWORD case reports where EMS calls in opioid overdoses to the Connecticut Poison Control Center. The narratives remain chilling: parents finding their kids dead in their bedrooms; spouses finding their partners dead in the homes they share; strangers finding people dead in parked cars and behind dumpsters. Hear the drumming. Another shovel breaks the cold earth.
If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we are all vulnerable. We may think that people who suffer from the disease of opioid addiction just decided to become addicts, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Whether through a medical prescription for an injury (sports, car accident, fall) or an innocent experimentation, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, relatives, friends, and neighbors are sent down a path from which many will not return.
We are our brother’s keeper. It’s time to focus back on the opioid epidemic and consider bold steps (safe injection sites, medical heroin, massive anti-stigma campaigns and harm reduction funding, and most of all love and empathy for all) to end this horrible public health crisis.