MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Over 81,000 people died from drug overdoses in the country between June 2019 and May 2020, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts are tagging COVID-19 as a major factor in making this year the deadliest overdose period in any 12-month span, and Madison County is no exception.
The CDC cites Alabama’s overdose rate has increased 23% from June 2019 to June 2020.
Madison County Coroner, Dr. Tyler Berryhill, said his county is no exception.
“We usually see a drug-related death once every 5 days, but it skyrocketed to a death every day and a half locally,” Dr. Berryhill said. “It was something that really caught us off guard.”
The CDC found the largest increase in overdose deaths between March and May of 2020; a direct correlation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Initially we had the stimulus checks that hit the streets to people, and then likewise we had to quarantine people at home, limited access to possibly drug counselors. There were so many different factors at play that just came together to create a perfect storm if you would say that caused a substantial volume of deaths for our area that we have never seen before,” Berryhill said.
Huntsville Police agree that the numbers of overdose calls they have responded to has increased.
Former STAC Unit Commander Lt. Tony McElyea told News 19 in a statement:
“We have not kept statistics specific to overdoses during the pandemic. However, I can say that opioid related overdoses has increased since last February. Opioid related overdoses even doubled from month to month sometime in mid year 2020. The exact cause is unknown. However the correlation of more idle time, higher stress, or access to resources is hard to ignore. The transition between heroin mixed with fentanyl to users purchasing, and using pure fentanyl is also a major factor in this increase. “
Berryhill said he has also seen a comeback for the potentially deadly combination of heroin and fentanyl.
A backlog in the state’s toxicology lab means Berryhill may not know exactly how many people in Madison County died of an overdose for months to come.
“That’s a life, and it’s an absolutely gut-wrenching thing to see on a daily basis and it’s heartbreaking,” Berryhill said.
He added that over the past few months, numbers have begun to stabilize, and he hopes that the worst of this spike has passed.