Overdose deaths still high in New Hampshire

  • Courtesy of Office of Chief Medical Examiner Teddy Rosenbluth—

Monitor staff
Published: 8/19/2020 4:18:06 PM
Modified: 8/19/2020 4:17:55 PM

As the coronavirus pandemic loosens its grip, the number of overdose deaths in the state continues to increase, according to new data from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

In July, the state reported 36 fatal overdoses, compared to 25 in July of 2019, an increase of nearly 45%. The most recent data is part of an overall trend of increasing overdoses since March, concerning health experts. Aside from June, each month since the pandemic has brought more overdoses deaths than the year before, painting a grim picture for addiction advocates. 

Advocates have long worried about the effect of COVID-19 on mental health since the start of the pandemic. To many, the combination of isolation and economic instability has created a perfect storm for those struggling with substance abuse. Some recent studies have found an association between unemployment and the risk of fatal overdoses. 

Jake Berry, the vice president of policy at health nonprofit New Futures also said that early in the pandemic, very few people were going to emergency rooms for help with substance abuse which likely meant people weren’t getting the help they needed.

The number of fatal overdoses in New Hampshire spiked in 2017 at 490 deaths but had declined since then. The recent increase in monthly deaths concerns make advocates concerned that the progress that was made on the opioid epidemic might soon be reversed. 

The total deaths so far this year haven’t outpaced the number of fatal overdoses at the same point in 2019. Through July, New Hampshire has had 200 fatal overdoses compared to 235 in 2019. However, the months of April through June show a distinct spike with 145 deaths during the four month period this year compared to 123 last year.

This increase in overdose deaths mirrors national data, which also points to a spike in overdoses. A report conducted by the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program found that there was an 18% increase in the number of national overdoses, likely due to the pandemic. 

The majority of the overdoses this year involved a combination of fentanyl and other drugs, followed by fentanyl alone. The state has had the highest rate of fentanyl overdose deaths per capita in the United States for many years, according to a study published in April.

Manchester bore the brunt of the overdoses, reporting 32 deaths with 12 more pending toxicology reports. Nashua trailed slightly behind with 14 confirmed deaths and 3 cases pending. Concord reported five overdose deaths. 

New Hampshire has consistently had one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the country. In 2019, New Hampshire ranked third for the most overdoses per 100,000 people. 

The news of increasing overdoses also comes as substance abuse treatment providers across the state have reported financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. A report published by the non-profit New Futures found that providers will have lost about $6 million in revenue by October. Additional costs associated with operating, such as purchasing telemedicine technology, coupled with a decline in clients and events that would ordinarily generate income, have been disastrous for the providers. 

Eight of the surveyed providers in the study said they have had to lay off or furlough staff since the virus struck in March. Seven more respondents said they would have to lay off additional staff in order to survive through early October.

A lack of access to substance abuse treatment providers could further exacerbate the addiction crisis, advocates say. 

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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