The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in December 2020 that drug overdoses rose in the latest reporting period, with deaths hitting an all-time high of 81,230 for the 12 months ending May 2020, an 18.2 percent increase. While the reasoning for the increase in overdose deaths is not fully known, the CDC attributes at least some of the increase to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused shutdowns over most of the country from March to May, when the biggest increases occurred.
The largest number of overdoses were attributed to synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely potent drug, and if it is not diluted and mixed exactly right, a person could take too much and not even know it. Even a few grains can mean the difference between a manageable dose and one that can cause a fatal overdose.
Fentanyl has become more widely available in the last 12 months, but while there may have been an increase in fentanyl-related overdoses even without the pandemic, overdoses of methamphetamine and cocaine have also increased over the same time period. These increases point to more than just one cause.
Isolation leads to more overdose deaths
It isn’t necessarily the pandemic itself that directly caused the increase in overdose deaths but the unprecedented isolation the pandemic and associated shutdowns have caused. Isolation has two main impacts on those who struggle with substance abuse:
- The stress, anxiety, and depression caused by being alone and not having as many outside activities, which can be exacerbated by job loss or working from home while children are home from school, and
- The fact that in many cases, no one may be there to realize that the overdose has occurred and get medical attention or administer naloxone to reverse the overdose.
In addition to the increased number of overdose deaths, the use of naloxone (brand name Narcan) also increased during the months of March through May 2020 in some areas, suggesting that the true number of overdoses was even higher than the reported death count.
Getting a handle on overdoses
The use of naloxone for overdoses continues to become more widespread, which should help to curb overdoses and reduce deaths. Laws have recently changed to make it easier to get naloxone without a prescription and to get the lifesaving drug as a preventative for someone else. These changes allow family members or loved ones to administer immediate treatment to someone who might need it.
In addition, pandemic-related isolation has eased for many people as people are figuring out how to stay safe without isolation. Many have formed small pods of people they don’t socially distance from because of caretaking and other responsibilities.
People are encouraged to check in on loved ones who do live alone and could be at risk of an overdose. Although substance abuse treatment can look different right now, it is available for those who need more help.
For those who are ready to consider long-term treatment, Harris House can help. We provide in-person inpatient and outpatient services for those struggling with substance abuse. Call us to learn about admissions to our top-rated programs and get the help you or a loved one needs today.