As COVID-19 Numbers Mount, Opioid Abuse Does Too

October 15, 2020

There’s no doubt about it. We are enduring many pains, hardships and sorrows during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The count of those who have contracted the disease continues to tick up. The number of people who have succumbed to it does too.

But the misfortunes don’t stop there. Others indirectly relate to this vicious scourge. One is the topic of this post – and it has to do with opioids.coronavirus and opioid abuse cause man to overdose holding pills

By way of background, there are prescription opioids and the illicit kind. Not one or the other, but both have accounted for a staggering amount of deaths across the U.S. in a recent 10-year span. How many lives lost? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) places the estimate at 450,000. This statistic, which tracks data from 1999-2018, comes from a piece aptly named “Understanding the Epidemic.”

A Tale of Two Tragedies

These two trends are colliding. Both – coronavirus and opioid abuse – are going full force, the latter intensified by the other. And the outcomes for too many addicted to opioids, especially at this time, are stained with tears.

Deprived of numerous outlets during the pandemic, people with opioid disorders are falling victim to their urges in record numbers. The lack of community supports is taking a toll on treatment and lives. The prevalence of this problem is widespread. As reported recently in the New York Times: “More than 40 states have seen evidence of increases in overdoses.”

Here are some examples:

  • The use of Narcan, a substance for reversing overdoses, has tripled in Arkansas.
  • Jacksonville, Florida, has experienced a jump of 40 percent in overdose-related calls.
  • During the month of March, in York County, Pennsylvania, overdose deaths tripled.

This snapshot comes from the files of the American Medical Association (AMA). In light of the abundant state-by-state findings, the New York Times national health care correspondent analyzes the overall report. Their comment links the crises; it also underscores the harm one has inflicted on the other. “In the six months since Covid-19 brought the nation to a standstill, the opioid epidemic has taken a sharp turn for the worse.”

Anatomy of the Story

The referenced news article bears the headline: “’The Drug Became His Friend’: Pandemic Drives Hikes in Opioid Deaths.” It reviews two major consequences of the coronavirus menace – isolation and loneliness. And the content focuses on one young man who is no more and lived in the Vermont, a state hit adrift in opioids.

The person showcased in this piece, Jeffrey, was in recovery after a long battle with opioids. Things changed when the coronavirus took hold. He lost his job as well as the economic and social benefits it afforded him. He stopped taking the medication prescribed to curb his cravings for opioids. The lockdown limited his in-person connections. All told, he started using again. His mother speculates why. She explains it in the phrase captured in the title of the article: “I think the drug became his friend.” That said, his grandmother found his lifeless body.People in masks greeting by touching elbows

This account reflects others in the state. Vermont enacted a series of recovery-oriented       measures during the pandemic. Examples: expediting medication assisted treatment (MAT) and emergency dosing. What’s more, special funding converted hotels into temporary housing for the homeless and others at risk. Nothing it seems could allay the emotional distress caused by the profound health disaster sweeping the country. Many of the most vulnerable returned to or increased using drugs and perished.  The CDC confirms the prominence of these troubling byproducts of the pandemic. It notes: “During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use.”

Surviving family members grapple with how to gain closure. At the same time, the AMA seeks to mitigate the root problem. The group is trying to mobilize a range of resources at the state level. It outlines its actions in “COVID-19 policy recommendations for OUD [opioid use disorder], pain, harm reduction.” For the time being, the group notes: “As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, so does the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

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