Doctors are seeing an increase in drug overdose deaths during the pandemic

Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 4:38 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Shannon Prince lost her only child to an accidental overdose in 2019. Parker was only 25 and addicted to opioids.

“You don’t expect to lose your children before you go,” Prince said. ”He was a social genius. He had so many friends. He was so sweet and he and I were really, really close and I miss him so much.”

She lost him to the disease of addiction.

“What concerns me too, is these people really try, but, it’s in their brains and it’s a disease and it keeps saying, go get it, go get it, even when they don’t want to go get it, and a lot of people are committing suicide over this as well because they lose to the devil and they go and get it and it kills them,” said Prince.

During the pandemic, more and more families are also suffering through the pain Shannon and her husband David Dillard have had to endure. There’s been a rise in drug overdoses across the country.

“Parker was inured in a football game at a local high school when he was 18-years-old and he was prescribed oxycontin. Now, we didn’t know anything was going on for many years,” Dillard said. ”His struggle to get off of this was lengthy, it was frustrating, it was very difficult.”

Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich says in 2020 there was a substantially higher increase in drug deaths than there were in previous years.

“Just to give you some numbers, we had 233 total overdoses in 2020 compared to 154 in 2019,” said Cvitanovich, M.D. ”We have seen an increase in methamphetamine as well but the biggest increase is in fentanyl, literally if you are just going from year to year, in 2019 we had 75 fentanyl or fentanyl-related deaths, this past year it was up to 160, so more than double.”

LSU Health’s Chief of Community and Population Medicine,Benjamin Springgate, M.D., says isolation during the pandemic is leading to more mental health and substance abuse challenges.

“When people are isolated they fall back into negative thought patterns, they start using potentially more and this is a real crisis for people who have a treatable illness,” said Springgate. ”Many of the clinics and support structures that would be available to help people with their challenges of addiction have been closed or had limited hours.”

As for Shannon and David, they know all too well how devastating opioid addiction can be. They’re now working to bring awareness to the problem.

“For Shannon, being a mother to Parker, there is no words and there is no way to describe the anguish of someone losing their only child, it’s got to be the worst thing that can happen to a person and recovering from it is never complete, there is always a grieving process,” said Dillard.

“I know Parker would want you all to know you are not alone, you are not alone in this and I know there’s lonely times with the pandemic,” Prince said. ”We have to keep it out there, we have to keep it in front of government, we have to support each other.”

If you are struggling with addiction or know someone who is, Dr. Springgate says reach out for help and try to find your way back into care. He says more clinics and support groups are now offering virtual services. Also, there are free services out there for low income patients or those in between jobs during the pandemic. Springgate says the Integrated Health Clinic at UMC specializes in opiate addiction. They can be reached at (504) 962-6106.

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