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CDC records an all-time-high number of overdose deaths in 12-month period

An Austin alcohol and drug rehab center said calls for help haven't slowed down.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin's Sage Recovery & Wellness, a center providing care for people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, has received many calls throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The president and co-founder said calls spiked last March and it hasn't stopped. 

"The phones are ringing. The website chats are kind of going crazy," said Tiffany Anschutz with Sage. "The general adult population that we're just seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and, of course, a significant increase in alcohol use towards no longer becoming manageable."

Anschutz said they'll always answer the call, and the CDC reports those people are not alone. It recently reported more than 81,000 overdose deaths between May 2019 and May 2020, which the CDC said is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. The most deaths were between March and May, according to the report.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.” 

The CDC said synthetic opioids are the main problem in the increase in overdose deaths. 

CDC issued a health advisory in December to medical and public health professionals, first responders, harm reduction organizations and other community partners asking them to follow a list of recommendations:

  • Expand distribution and use of naloxone and overdose prevention education.
  • Expand awareness about and access to and availability of treatment for substance use disorders.
  • Intervene early with individuals at the highest risk for overdose.
  • Improve detection of overdose outbreaks to facilitate a more effective response.

"More and more people are talking about it and seeing the impact, not that just quarantine or COVID or anything has had on the general population, but I do think it has helped, hopefully, opened the eyes and minds of everybody that addiction, mental health does not discriminate," said Anschutz. "We're serving actually a lot more physicians, attorneys and business executives. We have seen a big shift in the population of the clients that we're seeing right now."

If you or someone you know needs help, the CDC recommends calling the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service (1-800-662-HELP) to speak with someone about an alcohol or substance use problem.

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