A county in Ohio has experienced a skyrocketing number of drug overdose deaths amidst the coronavirus pandemic and a government-mandated lockdown.
Franklin County saw a 73% increase in overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time frame last year. Deaths began spiking in May, roughly two months into the state lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to Franklin County Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz.
“From May on, probably is when we started seeing increases and increases in those who were dying of overdoses,” Ortiz said, according to ABC 6.
In Franklin County, 437 people died from overdoses in the first six months of the year, primarily from the drug fentanyl. Ortiz said that on the current trajectory, overdose deaths could hit more than 900 by the end of the year.
Ortiz said that rampant joblessness has likely been a significant factor in the surge in overdose deaths. As people lose their paychecks, they cut back on drug use. After people restore some income, whether through unemployment benefits or a new job, they return to drugs but are either abusing substances cut with fentanyl or begin using drugs at the same level before the pandemic.
“Then you have folks who perhaps because they became unemployed, etc., may have not been able to buy their usual, and then when they do get some money, they start using again, and they start at the same doses they were taking previously, and that’s when they die,” Ortiz said.
Medical experts are increasingly warning of the costs of continuing strict lockdown policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In early October, three medical experts published the “The Great Barrington Declaration,” a statement calling for an end to lockdown and more targeted policies to protect those populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus while leaving the majority of people free to return to life as close to normal as possible.
“As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection,” the declaration says.
“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” it continues. “The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.”
The World Health Organization echoed the call days later. The organization’s envoy, Dr. David Nabarro, warned world leaders against using strict lockdown measures as a primary tool to combat the coronavirus.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro said. “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”