BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - New statistics show the number of deaths involving opioid drugs in the state increased 38% in 2020 over the previous year, according to a new report from the Vermont Department of Health.
Preliminary data showed the 157 people died from opioid-related causes last year, up to 114 in 2019 and the synthetic opioid fentanyl was involved in 88% of the deaths.
Nationally the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed a nationwide increase in overdose deaths to disruptions to daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday there were a variety of reasons for the increase in opioid deaths in Vermont, which declined last year after holding steady for several years.
Levine said the opioid treatment programs that Vermont used to reduce opioid deaths remain in place and access to the drug used to counter overdoses remains plentiful.
But the pandemic disrupted many things that people who use opioids rely on, such as using drugs with friends who can revive them or seek help if someone appears to be overdosing.
The pandemic also forced drug users to rely on different sources for their drugs, so they might not have been as aware of what they were getting.
“The power of the pandemic was quite overwhelming for this population,” Levine said.
The report found that a mixture of fentanyl and cocaine accounted for 33% of the opioid deaths. The next most common combination was fentanyl and heroin.
Of the total, 69% of the victims were male. The report found that 30% were between ages 30 and 39, followed by people over 50 and then ages 40 to 49.
Windsor County, which had 28 victims, had the highest rate of opioid deaths for the residence of the victims at 50.9 per 100,000.
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