Experts concerned about recent spike in overdose deaths amid pandemic

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Local addiction experts are concerned about a recent spike in suspected overdose-related deaths in Shelby County.

Those experts say the ongoing pandemic is putting more stress on people who are possibly at risk for addiction.

Experts say the nationwide opioid and addiction epidemic is getting worse as the country continues to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Negative impacts from the pandemic has made fighting addiction and alcoholism difficult.

“The addiction epidemic is there more quietly, but it’s steadily grinding on. Because where you see stress, where you see isolation, you’re going to see issues that relate to addiction,” said Dr. David Stern, co-founder of Integrated Addiction Care Associates.

In May, suspected overdose deaths in Shelby County spiked reaching a 16-month high with approximately 50 reported deaths.

After a decline in June and July, suspected overdose deaths spiked again in August, the most recent month of reported data, with approximately 40 deaths. That’s the third highest number in the past 18 months.

“A lot of people thought the worst was over,” said Stern.

Dr. David Stern, co-founder of Integrated Addiction Care Associates, says he believes many people have struggled coping with a long, drastic change to normal life during the prolonged pandemic.

“So I think there’s a certain discouragement that the light that we all felt that was at the end of the tunnel with this thing, maybe the tunnel is a little longer than we thought. The light is a little farther away than we thought,” said Stern.

“I am very concerned about the spike and the uptick in our numbers which is very alarming,” said Charles Winton, program director at Lakeside Behavioral Health.

Charles Winton, program director at Lakeside Behavioral Health, says they have seen a large increase of people in Shelby County seeking help with an addiction.

Winton believes the stress of job loss and social isolation related to COVID-19 has created an unusually stressful situation.

“While we’re facing a pandemic, we still have bills that we have to pay, we still have emotional break-ups and divorce rates, that’s going up,” said Winton.

Both experts say family members or friends should immediately seek help if they see a substance abuse problem with someone they care about.

“If you see something, say something. That is important because for so long, mental health issues have been ignored. So right now is not the time to ignore it,” said Winton.

“Addictions, alcoholism they affect all of us, everyone’s family in every way. So, I think yes, this is something that should be of concern,” said Stern.

Both experts say the pandemic has made it more difficult to treat addiction as well, with telehealth helping but not a good solution long-term.

If you are looking for help, Integrated Addiction Care has a toll free hotline, just call 833-330-3322. Someone is available to help 24/7.

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