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U.S. drug deaths surpass 100,000 for first time, spurred by pandemic

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More Americans than ever before died from drug overdoses over a 12-month period, according to federal data released on Wednesday, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted medical care and increased mental health woes, and as more lethal drugs flooded the streets.

The record of more than 100,000 overdose deaths between April 2020 and April 2021, which U.S. President Joe Biden called “a tragic milestone,” represents a 28.5% jump from the previous 12 months, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Biden administration said it would push states to enact laws making it easier for people to get access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

“No one should die from an overdose, and naloxone is one of the most effective tools we have to save lives,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Biden said in a statement that even as the country battles against the COVID-19 pandemic, “we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss” from drug overdose deaths.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, director of the American Health Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which focuses on addictions and overdose, said the peak of drug deaths hit in the spring of 2020, early in the pandemic. He expects the year-on-year overdose data to begin falling with July figures, but not by much.

“This is a momentous tragedy hidden by the pandemic,” Sharfstein said. “It’s heartbreaking how many families have been affected by an overdose this year.”

Sharfstein said the surge in overdose deaths reflects two factors, the first directly connected to pandemic disruptions that caused intense stress for many people.

“A lot of (drug addiction) programs had to close or reduce their hours or otherwise become less accessible during the pandemic,” Sharfstein said. “So even as there was much more need, there was less access to care in many places.”

The second is that the illegal drug supply out on the streets has become deadlier. That is mostly due to widespread availability of fentanyl, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine and is increasingly being mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine, without users knowing, as drug suppliers seek to boost their effects.

Even minuscule amounts of fentanyl make the drugs far more dangerous.

Sharfstein and other public health experts are calling on governments at all levels to take the overdose epidemic as seriously as they have confronted COVID-19, and to invest more in treatments proven to work, like naloxone, and in real-time data that tracks when and where overdoses are flaring up.

Data in July showed that last year’s drug overdoses jumped 30% as pandemic lockdowns made getting treatment difficult and dealers laced more drugs with fentanyl or copycat versions of the potent opioid.

The U.S. states with the biggest percentage spike in overdose deaths were Vermont at 70%, followed by West Virginia (62.2%) and Kentucky (54.5%). California, the most populous state, saw its overdoses climb nearly 47.8%.

 

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Donna Bryson)

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COVID-19 immunization clinics open to B.C. kids ages five to 11 today – Toronto Star

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VICTORIA – Children in British Columbia between five and 11 years old can start getting shots of a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine today.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week that about 350,000 children are eligible to receive the modified dose of the Health Canada-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Health Canada approved the pediatric shot for use in Canada after an independent scientific review confirmed the first vaccine formulated for younger children is safe and effective.

Henry says the same vaccine has been administered to more than three million children in the United States and there have been no “safety signals” as a result.

She says the vaccine will help children and families safely return to activities that benefit physical and mental health.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead for B.C.’s vaccination drive, has said she expects the full children’s immunization effort including second doses to conclude by the end of January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.

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COVID-19 immunization clinics open to B.C. kids ages five to 11 today – Times Colonist

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VICTORIA — Children in British Columbia between five and 11 years old can start getting shots of a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine today. 

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week that about 350,000 children are eligible to receive the modified dose of the Health Canada-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Health Canada approved the pediatric shot for use in Canada after an independent scientific review confirmed the first vaccine formulated for younger children is safe and effective. 

Henry says the same vaccine has been administered to more than three million children in the United States and there have been no “safety signals” as a result.

She says the vaccine will help children and families safely return to activities that benefit physical and mental health.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead for B.C.’s vaccination drive, has said she expects the full children’s immunization effort including second doses to conclude by the end of January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.

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COVID-19: Children between five and 11 are eligible for vaccinations starting Monday – Vancouver Sun

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Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11 on Nov. 19. This vaccine uses a lower dose of 10 micrograms — one-third of the dose given to older children and adults

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Children in B.C. between five and 11 years old start receiving the first doses of their COVID-19 vaccines on Monday.

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More than 90,000 out of the 350,000 eligible children, or 26 per cent, in that age category were registered a week before the rollout, according to the B.C. government.

The government’s own surveys show that most parents support getting vaccines for their young children, but there are some whose views might keep the vaccination rate lower for this age category.

Of B.C. parents who responded, 58 per cent will register to vaccinate their children right away, while another 18 per cent planned to wait, and nearly 25 per cent said they are not sure they will do it, according to Penny Ballem, the executive lead for B.C.’s immunization efforts.

A parent or legal guardian has to give verbal consent ahead of a child being vaccinated, according to Ballem.

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Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11 on Nov. 19. This vaccine uses a lower dose of 10 micrograms that is one-third of the dose given to older children and adults.

COVID-19 information from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control from Nov. 25 shows that 80 per cent of British Columbians at the next age group up, aged 12 to 17, are now fully vaccinated and more than 87 per cent have a first dose.

There are varying rates in different health authorities, however. In Fraser, Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver Island, it is higher at 82 per cent, 89 per cent and 83 per cent, respectively. In Interior, it was 70 per cent and in Northern, it was 59 per cent.

Within authorities, there is also a wide spectrum. As of Nov. 23, Enderby and Kettle Creek in the Interior authority had only 38 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds double vaccinated, while Kimberley posted 80 per cent. In Vancouver Coastal, Bella Coola Valley had 59 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds double vaccinated, while North Vancouver was at 93 per cent.

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Between Oct. 27 to Nov. 25, the number of average daily cases per 100,000 people among the double vaccinated for this 12 to 17 age group across B.C. was 2.5. Among those who had one vaccination, the number of average daily cases per 100,000 people was 8.2. And for the unvaccinated, the figure was 46.8 per 100,000.

For that same period, in the category of 0-11 year olds, who are all unvaccinated, the number of average daily cases per 100,000 people was 16.8.

“I think the most important thing is that vaccinations be readily available for all children and families,” said Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“For families where it’s not convenient for them to book an appointment in a separate clinic or perhaps they work long hours or there are other various individual circumstances, we think there should be an option (for COVID-19 vaccination) in schools as well.”

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Mooring said that “it was a concern with the 12- to 17-year-olds as well and what we’re seeing in some parts of the province, where we have vaccine hesitancy, we are still those (vaccination) numbers lag behind. We don’t want that to be the case for the five to 11-year-olds.”

Youth aged 12 to 18 have to carry a B.C. Vaccine card, or have a trusted adult carry one for them, to go to restaurants and attend indoor, organized events. Unlike adults, they don’t have to also show government-issued identification. Children aged five to 11 are not be required to show proof of vaccination.

jlee-young@postmedia.com

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