COVID-19 is not only causing widespread illness and death, but it is also increasing economic distress, social isolation, and anxiety, all risk factors for those actively using drugs or alcohol, and for those in recovery.
Although drug overdose deaths in the United States decreased by about 4 percent in 2018, those numbers began to rise again in 2019, with the synthetic opioid fentanyl being blamed for much of the increase. Overdose statistics for 2020 are expected to be even worse.
Many experts attribute the predicted increase in drug overdose deaths to the effects of COVID-19. In an interview with Fox News, Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, estimates drug overdoses have increased 30 to 40 percent since the initial outbreak of the virus.
The interview quotes Volkow as stating, “There are reports that more people are dying from overdoses [and] that people who were in recovery are now relapsing.” She places much of the blame on the forced isolation brought about by the virus, saying it is especially dangerous to those struggling with addiction and recovery.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Overdose Deaths?
People are driven to use addictive substances for a variety of reasons, often in an attempt to self-medicate. Reasons may include:
- Seeking to ease physical pain, which may start with misuse of prescribed pain medication
- Seeking to ease emotional pain and mental health issues, such as loneliness, anxiety disorders, depression, trauma, and PTSD
- Seeking to feel better during challenging situations, since drug use increases dopamine levels in the brain, delivering pleasure and a sense of well-being
Other factors that may increase drug or alcohol use include the pressure to fit in with social groups, an individual’s genetics, and family history.
COVID-19 has cut many people off from loved ones, enforced self-isolation, contributed to boredom, and increased anxiety, stress, and depression. Disrupted routines, the loss of in-person support meetings and counseling, and a collapse of other support structures all increase the risk of relapse and overdose.
The numbers are frightening. The National Institute of Health (NIH) cites recent statistics collected by the federal Overdose Detection Mapping and Application Program, which found suspected drug overdoses rose by 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May compared to last year.
On August 14, 2020, the American Medical Association issued a statement that “more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality.” The AMA urges governors and state legislatures to allow increased use of telemedicine for evaluation and prescribing medications, to remove existing barriers for patients with pain to obtain necessary medications, and to lessen barriers to access sterile needle and syringe services programs.
If your struggle with drug or alcohol use has become more challenging since the onset of COVID-19 or if your recovery plan is in jeopardy, don’t let the current health crisis prevent you from getting the help you need. Talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist for guidance.
Although some in-person support services are limited due to COVID-19, see the SAMHSA website for links to a wide range of virtual recovery resources.
Turning Point of Tampa has been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.