A new study finds that cold weather snaps are followed by a marked increase in fatal opioid overdoses.
A research team led by Brandon Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Brown University’s School of Public Health, found a 25 percent increase in fatal opioid overdoses after periods of freezing temperatures compared to days with an average temperature of 52 degrees.
And while the researchers continue to investigate the reasons for this pattern, Marshall suggests some interventions that could reduce overdose risk regardless of the cause. These include cold weather-triggered public health messages that remind people to check on neighbors and loved ones who use opioids, or those that warn individuals who use drugs not to use alone, especially during cold weather.
“It is well known that opioids induce respiratory depression, and that’s what causes a fatal overdose,” Marshall said. “However, there may be a host of other risk factors that contribute to opioid overdose deaths, which could be avenues for effective interventions. Regardless of what is causing the correlation between cold weather and fatal overdoses, our findings suggest that agencies and organizations should consider scaling up harm-reduction efforts after a period of cold weather.”
The research involved a partnership between opioid researchers at Brown and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), as well as Brown experts who study how the environment impacts human health. Marshall serves also as scientific director for Prevent Overdose R.I., an overdose-surveillance dashboard operated with RIDOH, which provided the data on overdose deaths in Rhode Island.
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