5 Ways the COVID-19 Pandemic Worsened the Opioid Crisis

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The number of people dying from a drug overdose has been steadily increasing every year since the 1990s. Although there was a slight decline in 2018, overdose deaths picked up in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, overdose deaths spiked significantly.

According to preliminary data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 93,000 overdose deaths occurred in 2020, making it the highest annual number ever recorded. When put into perspective, this number amounts to a nearly 30-percent increase from the previous year, and it’s the highest percentage increase since the early stages of the opioid crisis.

Factors that Influenced Drug Overdoses During the Pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone, it has been particularly devastating for those with an existing drug use disorder and those at risk for developing one.

Various factors influenced the increase in drug overdoses during the pandemic, including:

  1. Increased stress- Job losses, overall uncertainty, and a disruption to daily life caused many people to use drugs more frequently.
  2. Mental health challenges- Increased anxiety, depression, and loneliness also increased drug use, as many used substances to cope.
  3. Using drugs alone- Due to social distancing measures, people were more likely to use drugs while alone. Using drugs in isolation is particularly dangerous because there is no one around to call 9-1-1 or administer naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of a drug overdose, in the event of an emergency.
  4. Disruption in treatment- The pandemic also disrupted treatment for those seeking help for a substance use disorder, thereby increasing the risk of relapse, overdose, and death. In addition to temporary closures of treatment centers, many people did not seek treatment because they were afraid of being exposed to the virus.
  5. Opioid shortages- During the initial stages of the pandemic, there was also a shortage of opioids. Many people who use these drugs were forced to get their supplies from new, untrusted sources. In addition, some people began purchasing higher quantities of opioids due to uncertainty or to reduce the number of times they would need to leave their homes.

What Drugs Are Driving the Opioid Crisis?

The vast majority, about 80 percent, of the overdose deaths, can be attributed to opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids are the most common drug involved in overdose deaths. Fentanyl, in particular, is one of the main opioids driving the current opioid crisis.

Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

One reason fentanyl contributes to so many overdose deaths is that many people are unaware their drugs contain the substance. Fentanyl is more potent and cheaper to produce than other drugs, so many illegal drug producers lace their products, including cocaine and methamphetamine, with fentanyl in order to cut costs.

Because a person may not know their drugs contain fentanyl, and it is likely stronger than the drugs they are used to, they are at an increased risk of accidentally overdosing.

Looking Beyond the Numbers

When looking at the statistics, it’s easy to forget that each number represents a human life. In 2020, 93,000 people lost their lives due to a drug overdose. In many instances, these deaths were preventable.

By focusing on opioid abuse deterrence and non-addictive pain management, Vivera hopes to make a positive impact on the opioid crisis. Learn more about ZICOH, one of the ways Vivera is combatting the existing opioid epidemic, please visit zicoh.com.

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