How exactly is COVID-19 affecting the opioid crisis?
- Drug overdose deaths hit a record high in 2019, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The pandemic seems to be worsening the opioid crisis, possibly due to users' reluctance to visit hospitals, mental health problems, and disruptions to drug supply.
- Still, it's too early to know exactly how the pandemic is transforming drug use in the U.S.
CDC<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Policymakers are faced with impossible choices," Jodi Manz, project director for chronic and vulnerable populations at the National Academy for State Health Policy, told <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/07/16/opioid-overdoses-have-skyrocketed-amid-the-coronavirus-but-states-are-nevertheless-slashing-addiction-treatment-program-budgets/" target="_blank">STAT</a>. "Leaders are being put in situations where they thought they had really significant revenue from the prior year, and just overnight were faced with a very, very different revenue situation."</p><p>The side effects of the pandemic may be worsening the problem, too. For example, stay-at-home orders may put Americans at higher risk of using or relapsing drugs, especially when you consider widespread job losses.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Social isolation has always been a huge component of drug overdose risk," Traci Green, an epidemiologist at Brown University who studies drug addiction, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/15/upshot/drug-overdose-deaths.html" target="_blank">The New York Times</a>. "So much of what we've been trying to do has been completely unraveled."</p><p>But perhaps more concerning amid the pandemic is drug users' reluctance to visit hospitals. In Illinois, for example, emergency rooms across Cook County Health have reported a surge in opioid deaths, but no corresponding surge in emergency-room visits for opioids.</p>
A deposit box for used hypodermic needles stands in a park in the South Bronx on March 13, 2019 in New York City.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is extremely alarming because an opioid overdose patient will likely live if given naloxone in the ambulance and opioid overdose deaths in the emergency department are a rare event," Dr. Steve Aks, division chair of emergency medicine and toxicology at Cook County Health, told <a href="https://abc7chicago.com/health/cook-county-reports-increase-in-opioid-deaths-amid-covid-19-pandemic-/6316666/" target="_blank">ABC 7 Chicago</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Due to the pandemic, we asked individuals to stay at home unless it is an emergency — an overdose is an emergency."</p><p>Another reason the pandemic may be exacerbating the opioid crisis is that it's disrupting regular habits and drug supply. For example, cash-strapped users may be taking unusually long breaks between taking opioids, which would lower their tolerance. This would also increase their risk for overdose.</p><p>Still, it's still too early to determine exactly how the pandemic is affecting the opioid crisis in the United States.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Nobody has hard data yet; they just don't," Patrick Trainor, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia, told The New York Times.</p>
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