opioid-related disorders; substance-related disorders; COVID-19; pandemics; SARS-CoV-2; health care disparities; drug use; Florida/epidemiology; opiate overdose; opioid analgesics


Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Health Services Research | Substance Abuse and Addiction



The purpose of the study was to investigate the relationship between community-level variables and emergency department (ED) visit rates before and during COVID-19. The focus was on opioid-related ED visits. Despite large declines in overall ED visits during COVID-19, opioid-related visits increased. While visits for avoidable conditions decreased, the opposite was true for opioid-related visits.


We combined data from Florida EDs with community-level variables from the 2020 American Community Survey. The outcome measures of the study were quarterly ZIP code tabulation-area-level ED visit rates for opioid-related ED visits as well as visit rates for all other causes. Associations with opioid-related visit rates were estimated before and during COVID-19.


The associations between community-level variables and opioid-related visit rates did not match those found when analyzing overall ED visit rates. The increase in opioid-related visits during COVID-19 was not unique to or more prevalent in areas with a larger percentage of racial/ethnic minority populations. However, socioeconomic status was important, as areas with higher unemployment, lower income, lower home ownership, and higher uninsured had higher overall ED visit rates and opioid visit rates during the pandemic. In addition, the negative association with income increased during the pandemic.


These results suggest socioeconomic status should be the focus of prevention and treatment efforts to reduce opioid-related visits in future pandemics. Healthcare organizations can use these results to target their prevention and treatment efforts during future pandemics.