The Rise in Opioid Overdoses During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When news first hit about the COVID-19 pandemic we never could have imagined the virus’s implications on the opioid epidemic that has plagued the U.S. for years. As stay-at-home and social distancing orders were put into place, drug rehab centers and in-person programs were forced to close their doors and those struggling with drug addiction were left to face isolation and temptation alone – ultimately causing a spike in opioid overdoses.
The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, also known as ODMAP, has been collecting data weekly that has consistently shown drug overdose spikes since March 2020. In its first report released in May of 2020, ODMAP reported that suspected drug overdose submissions displayed a 20% increase when compared to overdose submissions from the same time period in the year prior. Additionally, in just the first quarter of this year, ODMAP reported that overdose spike alerts were 191 percent higher than those of last year.
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The Washington, D.C. based program attributed the spike in overdoses to the fact that “people who use drugs are likely vulnerable during the pandemic due to stigma, discrimination, inferior health knowledge, prioritization of drug use over overall health, and may experience difficulties accessing harm reduction services.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) has also expressed its concern by issuing a brief urging government leaders and state legislatures to take action against opioid-related overdoses. In response to more than 30 states reporting increases in opioid-related fatalities, the AMA encouraged governors to adopt rules and guidelines put into place by the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) that provides increased flexibility for providing methadone and buprenorphine to those struggling with drug addiction. The AMA also called for the complete removal of prior authorization and other administrative barriers for any medications used to treat opioid addiction.
Conversely, drug addiction has also been linked to a surge in positive cases of coronavirus. People with poor access to healthcare and/or pre-existing conditions are already more vulnerable to contracting the disease, including drug users who are currently incarcerated or homeless. This dilemma raises concerns for people who want to seek help for drug addiction. As hospitals and medical centers and continuously overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases there are feweropportunities for drug users to receive proper treatment.
Consequences of the Pandemic on Drug Addiction
Many people turn to drugs in their darkest moments. In 2020 alone, hundreds of thousands of people have lost loved ones to the virus and millions more have lost their jobs and, as a result, are facing eviction. These factors alone are enough to drive people to find relief in drugs, but those with a history of drug abuse are especially at risk of relapsing.
For those who struggled with drug addiction prior to the pandemic, isolation is thought to be the leading cause of opioid overdose spikes during the COVID-era. In-person therapy and group support were put on pause, leaving those seeking rehabilitation in a very vulnerable position. Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty may become overwhelming, putting drug users at greater risk of overdosing.
Additionally, isolation often means a lack of support, which can increase addictive behavior. An increase in addictive behavior can cause increased opportunities for overdoses. If no one is around to help keep addicts on track with their treatment, or seek treatment in the first place, there is also no one there to catch their overdose in time to administer naloxone.
Access to Drug Rehab Programs and Treatments
While many drug rehab centers had to close their doors, many of them quickly shifted to creating virtual programs. Drug users seeking treatment are able to video chat with therapists, doctors and others who are going through the same thing. This has gone a long way in preventing overdoses, but ultimately it is not the same as receiving treatment in person.
These uncertain times can weigh heavy on everyone, especially those who suffer from drug addiction and their loved ones. It’s important to note that no one is alone in this journey and we are all navigating this new way of life together.
Receiving effective treatment during the pandemic is still possible. At Ventura Recovery Center, we are taking every precaution to keep our staff and client safe and healthy by offering online addiction treatment. Learn more about us and our rehab programs on our website.