Opioid deaths are surging across the United States after the coronavirus pandemic and heavy-handed lockdown measures put tens of millions of Americans out of work and separated patients from necessary medical and mental health care.
The opioid crisis was already worsening as annual deaths from the drugs have more than doubled in the past decade. After yearly deaths fell slightly in 2018, the number of deaths in 2019 is expected to set a record high of roughly 72,000, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
County health departments across the country are measuring a significantly increased number of opioid deaths over last year’s data and over deaths tallied in the first few months of the year before widespread stay-at-home orders were put in place, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have hit addicts and those struggling to stay sober particularly hard. Social distancing rules and fear of the virus have driven people to stay much more isolated from society and limited the typical tools for people struggling with addiction, such as sessions with therapists.
“When COVID hit, nobody was allowed to touch anybody, nobody was allowed to see anybody,” Ms. Hicks said. “The worst thing for someone chaotically using drugs is to be isolated.”
Gary Tsai serves as interim director of substance abuse prevention and control for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. He said that opioid deaths in his county, the most populous in the United States, rose 48% in the first six weeks of the pandemic, according to WSJ.
“They’re indoors, they’re stressed, maybe they lost a job or a family member,” Tsai said of factors leading to increased drug abuse.
In Franklin County, Ohio, the number of deadly overdoses through August of this year nearly matched the total number of opioid deaths in all of 2019.
In Washington, D.C., the pandemic and lockdowns are fueling a surge in drug overdoses. According to the district’s chief medical examiner, 47 people died from overdoses in April, the highest number to die in a single month since 2016. The pace of drug overdoses in Washington is set to hit a record high.
President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency in 2017.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” he said at the time. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”
“It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had,” he continued. “You know when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency, and we are drawing documents now to so attest.”