This 2013 photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. (Associated Press file)

This 2013 photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont. (Associated Press file)

Overdose deaths spiked during pandemic shutdown, data shows

Local leaders point to anxiety, isolation and difficulty accessing drug treatment.

EVERETT — New data shows the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened another public health crisis — drug addiction.

In Snohomish County, more people died from drug overdoses between March and July than in all of 2019, according to data from the Snohomish Health District. The anxiety and isolation, as well as limited clinical assistance, brought on by the pandemic have made it even more difficult to deal with addiction, experts say.

“Clearly COVID has changed so many things in our community, including the ability of those struggling with substance abuse disorders to seek help and services and access treatment,” health district health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during a Tuesday media briefing.

In total, 119 people have died from an overdose since March — the highest six-month count in at least four years.

About one third of all overdose deaths involved fentanyl — the synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

From January to June, another 432 people had overdosed, but were saved by Naloxone, a medicine used to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

During Tuesday’s news conference, County Executive Dave Somers cited some of the county’s resources to combat addiction — embedded social worker and diversion programs that connect people to housing and treatment instead of a trip to jail, the recently-renovated Carnegie Resource Center and partnerships with clinics offering medication-assisted treatment that use drugs like Suboxone to block drug cravings, coupled with counseling.

“Please know that we are allies in the struggle,” he said. “Anybody, in any family, anywhere, can succumb to this disease.”

And earlier this month, the health district was awarded a $1 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The money will go toward opioid prevention programs in Darrington and parts of the Sky Valley, Spitters said.

In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, both Somers and Spitters will speak Monday at the fourth annual “A Night to Remember, A Time to Act.”

The event is being held online due to COVID restrictions. It starts at 6 p.m. and will feature resources for and conversations about addiction, as well as a virtual candlelight vigil.

“It really is a battle,” said Debbie Warfield, who started co-organizing the event after her son Spencer died of an overdose. “It can go on for years. It can be very lonely and shameful with the stigma around it. It’s just a very difficult disease to fight.”

The theme of this year’s event is “Sobriety, Staying Sober and Hope.”

Event information can be found on the Overdose Awareness Everett Facebook page.

For access to local drug treatment resources, visit www.snohomishoverdoseprevention.com.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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