As the pandemic gripped the nation, solutions to combat the spread put America’s most vulnerable into dangerous isolation. The efforts to defeat the deadly opioid crisis took a backseat and the Draconian lockdowns may have claimed more lives than they saved. Drug overdoses spiked across the country and took an irreversible toll on communities.
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” President Donald Trump said.
That may precisely be what happened as governors forgot about those struggling to stay clean, sober, and alive, one day at a time.
“The pandemic has destabilized people trying to maintain sobriety or who are struggling with addiction during a time of increased social isolation and stress, according to treatment providers and public health authorities,” The Wall Street Journal recently reported. “In a survey of U.S. adults released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of respondents in June said they had started or increased substance use to deal with stress or emotions related to Covid-19.”
Drug overdoses had declined from 2017 to 2018 for the first time since 1990. They upticked in 2019 and indicators point to horrific data by the end of 2020. Overdoses in Los Angeles Country increased by 48 percent during the first month-and-a-half of the lockdowns alone. The data lags due to the effort to track Covid infection rates. In the Columbus, Ohio, area, drug overdosed closed in on the 600-mark in August. That figure rivals the entire number of deaths in all of 2019.
“I don’t think it would have been this high a number if Covid-19 hadn’t hit us,” Ohio’s Franklin County coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz reportedly said. “We’re seeing a lot more relapses.”
Harm-reduction specialists such as Shannon Hicks of West Virginia’s Exchange Union reportedly went on the record stating that isolation ranks among the worst possible solutions for substance abusers. Hicks attributes the state’s spike in overdoses to policies meant to slow the spread.
The stress, anxiety, and loneliness also appear to have impacted essential workers. Failed workforce drug tests rose by 4.5 percent. That ranks as the highest percentage in more than 15 years, according to reports. Experts continue to draw a straight line between stay at home orders, social distancing, and increased substance abuse.
“All of these aspects are translating into much more stress,” National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow said. “And stress, as we know, is one of the factors that leads people to relapse. Stress is also a factor that leads many to increase the consumption of drugs.”
Afflicted Americans are unlikely to see a decline in drug supply. Drug cartels have identified an increased demand in the U.S. and are working tirelessly to penetrate the southern border. According to reports by Customs and Border Protection, seizures of methamphetamines exceeded 23,452 pounds in August. That tally puts seized drugs at 141,663 pounds for the year, more than double 2019. In the last decade, overdoes took the lives of more than 500,000 Americans.
So, is the cure for Covid worse than the problem? If current virus-related and drug overdose death trends continue, addiction appears on track to cause 50 percent as many fatalities.