Covid-19 and the Rise of Opioid Abuse

Quarantining and social distancing have been effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but the resulting isolation can be devastating to those with an opioid use disorder. As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, so does the nation’s drug epidemic. Today, more than 35 states have reported an increase in opioid-related deaths. 

At this rate, the coronavirus is likely to negate previous advances made in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Over the last 20 years, this epidemic has claimed almost  600,000 lives in the United States alone. Worse still, the coronavirus is setting the stage for a potential long-term resurgence of addiction due to  the resulting  conditions it has caused, such as:

  • Unemployment
  • Isolation
  • Low income
  • Death and sickness of friends and family
  • Lack of medical care because of restrictions or worry about getting infected

The surge in opioid-related deaths may not be reported by the government for some time, but data obtained from real-time tracking of emergency calls and interviews with coroners indicate that overdoses are not just on the rise, but accelerating. According to current data, overdoses (not all of them fatal) have increased since 2019 by 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April, and a whopping 42 percent in May. 

Overdoses have increased by up to 42% per month during the pandemic, as compared to the same months in 2019.

Source: ODMAP

Note: Percent growth references the 1,201 agencies reporting to ODMAP by January 2019.

The current administration has repeatedly talked about the possible rise of overdoses and suicides as a reason for states and businesses to speed up the re-opening of their economies. Yet, of the nearly $2.5 trillion approved for COVID-19 related emergency relief, there has been only $425 million allocated for mental health and substance use treatment. That translates to a measly 0.00017 percent.

There has been much conversation about the second wave of the coronavirus. When will that happen? How bad will it be? Right now we also need to start talking about the second wave of the opioid crisis. We already have an idea of how bad it will be. The question is–what are we going to do about it?

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