The impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on drug overdose-related deaths in the United States and Canada: a systematic review of observational studies and analysis of public health surveillance data
Imtiaz, S., Nafeh, F., Russell, C. et al. The impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on drug overdose-related deaths in the United States and Canada: a systematic review of observational studies and analysis of public health surveillance data. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy 16, 87 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13011-021-00423-5
There are preliminary indications that the trajectory of drug overdose-related deaths in North America has been exacerbated due to the novel coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19). As such, the impact of COVID-19 on drug overdose-related deaths was examined through a systematic review of the literature and percentage change analyses of surveillance data.
Systematic searches in electronic databases were conducted, a topical issue brief and bibliography were reviewed, reference lists of included studies were searched and expert consultations were held to identify studies (Registration # CRD42021230223). Observational studies from the United States and Canada were eligible for inclusion if drug overdose-related deaths were assessed in quantitative or qualitative analyses onwards from at least March 2020. In addition, percentage changes comparing drug overdose-related deaths in the second annual quarter (Q2 2020 [April to June]) with the first annual quarter (Q1 2020 [January to March]) were generated using national and subnational data from public health surveillance systems and reports from jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.
Nine studies were included in the systematic review, eight from the United States and one from Canada. The maximum outcome assessment period in the included studies extended until September 2020. Drug overdose-related deaths after the onset of COVID-19 were higher compared with the months leading up to the pandemic in 2020 and the comparative months in 2019. In additional percentage change analyses, drug overdose-related deaths increased by 2 to 60% in jurisdictions in the United States and by 58% in Canada when comparing Q2 2020 with Q1 2020.
Drug overdose-related deaths increased after the onset of COVID-19. The current situation necessitates a multi-pronged approach, encompassing expanded access to substance use disorder treatment, undisrupted access to harm reduction services, emphasis on risk reduction strategies, provision of a safe drug supply and decriminalization of drug use.