Northwestern Medicine study finds over 25 percent increase in opioid overdoses in Cook County

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Daily file photo by Katie Pach

The report in JAMA Network, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association was co-authored by Feinberg Profs. Maryann Mason, Ponni Arukumar and Joseph Feinglass.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Cook County saw a 25.6 percent increase in opioid overdoses during Illinois’ first stay-at-home order in 2020, a Northwestern Medicine study published Friday found. 

The report in JAMA Network, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association, was co-authored by Feinberg Profs. Maryann Mason, Ponni Arukumar and Joseph Feinglass. 

It found a correlation between increases in the proportion of overdose deaths and involvement of fentanyl, a synthetic drug that produces similar effects to heroin but is tenfold stronger. 

“People could be staying at home and using alone, which limits the possibility that a bystander can call 911 or give naloxone to reverse the overdose,” Mason said. 

The researchers studied the timeframe between late March and end of May 2020, the first few months of shutdowns that the pandemic caused in the United States. They analyzed data that indicated overdose deaths from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.  

The study theorized that because people were not able to purchase from usual suppliers, they went to new dealers who potentially provided stronger substances, according to the release. Heroin-related deaths also decreased because it may be harder to obtain because of supply interruptions created by the pandemic. 

Furthermore, the report found that during the average number of weekly fatal opioid overdoses increased from 35.1 to 44.1 during the first stay-at-home period. After the order was lifted, the average weekly overdose death decreased then rose to 32.7. 

Compared to 2020, opioid overdose deaths remain elevated, the University release stated. However, the impact of the pandemic on opioid deaths are inconclusive due to pending cases in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. 

“This is concerning because it might indicate an overall persistent upward trend in overdose deaths,” Mason said.  

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