A White House drug policy study shows an 11.4% increase in drug overdoses in the first four months of this year. Experts say this dramatic uptick may be caused by fears and anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic, adding that their worst fears that lockdowns and quarantines would exacerbate the addiction crisis have been statistically confirmed.
According to Politico, White House drug expert Jim Carroll said, “The pandemic has caused my level of concern to go up.” President Donald Trump has made the opioid crisis a central issue during his presidency. U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows an increase in drug seizures with a 57% spike in drugs seized between March and April.
The deaths in recent years have been largely caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine have also spiked, according to Politico.
Certain states like West Virginia and Kentucky have been particularly hard by the opioid crisis during the pandemic. According to Politico, Kentucky reported 14 additional emergency medical service opioid overdose runs each week after Trump declared a public health emergency on March 13. West Virginia reported 923 overdose-related calls in May, which is a 50% jump over statistics reported last year.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, so does the drug epidemic. Robin Pollini, a harm reduction expert and associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, told the Gazette-Mail that it’s challenging to deal with the very serious issues of COVID-19 while trying to take care of other health problems going on in the background.
“We need to figure out how we respond to COVID-19 and continue treating those other ailments,” she said.
She pointed out that isolation from shutdowns and quarantines can be a trigger for relapse. Experts added that many support groups and rehabilitation programs switched to online sessions by holding video conferences instead of physical meetings. For many recovering addicts, it is the face-to-face accountability that keeps them on track.
Experts say that the pandemic has accelerated an already existing trend concerning fatal overdoses that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported, with data showing a 3% increase in drug-related deaths for the 12-month period ending in November 2019. And they add that with most of the healthcare resources directed to fighting the pandemic, there “just isn’t a desire at this point to have a strategy to dampen that curve,” said Sherry Daley, senior government affairs director for the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, according to Politico.
The economic uncertainty created by the pandemic adds more fuel to the deadly fire.
According to Kaiser Health News, Well Being Trust, a national public health foundation, conducted an analysis that predicted as many as 75,000 people might die from suicide, overdose or alcohol abuse. Experts say these deaths may have been triggered by the uncertainty and unemployment caused by the pandemic.
“People lose their jobs and they lose their sense of purpose and become despondent,” said Benjamin Miller, Well Being’s chief strategy officer. He told Kaiser Health News that a 2017 study found that for every percentage point increase in unemployment, opioid overdose deaths increased by 3.6%.
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