According to a new Quest Diagnostics Health Trends study published on October 8, 2020, the misuse of fentanyl, heroin and nonprescribed opioids has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study analyzed more than 872,000 de-identified lab results from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The researchers compared drug positivity rates before the pandemic (from January 1, 2019 to March 14, 2020) with positivity rates during the first few months of the pandemic (March 15, 2020 to May 16, 2020).  Compared to the period before the pandemic, the drug positivity rates increased by 35% for nonprescribed fentanyl and by 44% for heroin.  Nonprescribed opioids increased by 10%.  Moreover, the study identified a significant increase in the positivity rate of combining other drugs with nonprescribed fentanyl during the pandemic.  Specifically, positives for nonprescribed fentanyl increased among samples that were also positive for amphetamines (89%), benzodiazepines (48%), cocaine (34%), and opiates (39%).

Additionally, during the early months of the pandemic, the rate of drug testing declined while the rate of overall misuse held steady.  Quest Diagnostics reported a drop in the rate of orders for clinical lab tests by about 70% weekly.  Conversely, the rate of misuse remained about the same – 49.4% at the height of the pandemic versus 49.9% prior to the pandemic.

COVID-19 has created an environment rife with stressors, i.e., financial insecurity, isolation, depression, and decreased access to health care, impacting those most at-risk for substance abuse disorders.  The foregoing data calls attention to the ongoing opioid epidemic which remains persistent during these unprecedented times.