Overdose deaths increasing amid the COVID-19 pandemic


In 2018, the number of drug deaths in America fell for the first time in 25 years; however, by 2019 they began to rise again to record numbers. During the pandemic and extensive government-issued lockdowns, drug deaths continue to increase.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths decreased by 4.1% from 2017 to 2018. Heroin deaths decreased by 4%, and prescription opioid-involved deaths decreased by 13.5%. However, death rates involving synthetic opioids increased by 10%.

Nearly 72,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2019, which was a 5% increase from 2018. Unfortunately, the long-term predictions for 2020 look worse and drug deaths have risen 13% so far this year when compared to last year.

The number of drug-related deaths this year will be the sharpest increase since 2016.

Nothing has been easy this year for any American — those struggling with addiction are unable to access the resources they need and the vulnerable have been made more vulnerable.

With the pandemic, job losses, excessive government overreach, civil unrest — the overall mental well-being of many Americans has been on the decline. Those struggling with addiction have faced countless obstacles since the beginning of this pandemic.

Treatment centers have had to close their doors or reduce services. Support meetings for those in recovery were unable to continue with their support to get the help they need.

The decline in drug deaths in 2018 was primarily due to the reduction in mortality from prescription opioid medication. Prescription drug monitoring programs helped significantly.

However, the decline has been overshadowed by the continued increases in deaths from illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl. Some health officials believe the border closures slowed the rate of drugs coming into the county, yet addicts found local resources.

It is still difficult to imagine that Mexican drug cartels simply stopped finding a way to smuggle drugs into the country. In 2019, Customs and Border Protection seized 68,585 pounds of methamphetamine — as of June 2020, they have seized 103,917 pounds of methamphetamine. Also, in 2019 they seized 2,545 pounds of fentanyl; and as of June 2020, it is at 2,034 pounds.

Drugs are still flooding into the country from the southern border, but countless addicts are not getting the treatment they need.

Where is this all going to end? With more people dead from a drug overdose and other deaths of despair.

The resources within the treatment community have been stretched thin and only $425 million of the $2.58 trillion approved for emergency relief went to mental health and substance use.

Treatment providers across the country may see an increase in the number of people asking for help. However, if governments continue attempting to enact heavy-handed lockdowns and keep with excessive overreach, more addicts will die in isolation.

It is up to us within the treatment industry to start reaching out to help those who are vulnerable, especially now as much of the economy struggles to get back on its feet.

There are millions of people struggling with addiction and millions more in recovery.

Still, it is unknown how many new addictions or deaths of despair are a result of the pandemic.

The coming months will show us the work we have in front of us.

Cori Buck is a healthcare professional and expert in substance abuse and addiction recovery.

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