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Overdoses During COVID Hit Record High Numbers

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At this point, we are all aware of the coronavirus pandemic to the point that it can become a cliché to mention how difficult things are or how much things have changed since COVID began. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that our world is different now than it was before. Regardless of one’s opinions on the virus itself, society has been forced to shift and adapt to the virus’s effects. For many people, this has impacted the ability to work, get jobs, spend time with friends and family, and so many other activities.

A certain amount of being home and alone can be useful. So often, we can distract ourselves by being around others and constantly being engaged in activities. Some time away from these things can help with allowing individuals opportunities to reflect, address problems in their lives, or space to get things in their lives in the order provided we take the opportunity to do so (and not to distract ourselves again through excessive television, video games, or any other activity intended to occupy our attention and focus exclusively).

On the other hand, being home and especially being alone can be extremely problematic. In many cases, it means the structure ordinarily provided by society is removed. While society and culture’s influences can be dangerous, they are also part of what orients our behavior. Our time spent with others helps teach us what things are okay to do and which are not, provides outside sources of accountability, and fosters our sense of community with one another. When these things are removed, especially if we are isolated completely, it is not difficult for our minds to wander to strange places, for us to give in to temptations. When we are not going out and socializing, when we do not have personal interactions with others when the structure and security of normal functioning are gone, the doors for chaos and uncertainty are opened.

This can manifest in different ways. For some people, the loss of jobs, the distance from society, and the absence of shared activities with others can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, alcohol, drugs, and others. Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing we have seen recently. Throughout the United States, the number of drug overdoses has been increasing, but they have reached record levels since the virus has started.

Number of Overdoses During COVID are Record-Breaking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from June 1, 2019, until May 31, 2020, over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.[i] This is the highest number of overdose deaths over a 12-month period that has ever been recorded. The current data indicates that synthetic opioids are the primary driver of this increase in overdose deaths, and the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the acceleration of this pattern.

Also, during this 12-month time period, we have seen the following:

  • Increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths in 37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available data
  • Increase greater than 50 percent in 18 of these jurisdictions
  • More than a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths in 10 western states[ii]

More recently, in a report last updated on March 3, 2021, issues regarding a rise in opioid- and other drug-related overdose have continued to increase.[iii] This issue brief from the American Medical Association says, “More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder.” There is also some preliminary evidence that suggests that fewer smokers are quitting, and more than half of those who survive COVID are suffering from depressive disorders.[iv]

Rehabilitation Prevents Fatal Overdoses

These are certainly troubling times. It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of such difficulties. For those who are not struggling with these issues, these numbers may not even connect fully. Part of what can be done is to make an effort to support your community in safe ways and begin trying to understand the struggle of those dealing with addiction and substance use disorders. If you are one of the ones struggling with addiction in the midst of this pandemic, it may feel like nothing can be done. There are no words that can make these issues go away or take away the pain and loneliness.

What remains is hope. Hope is a fleeting thing sometimes. It’s not something that is always very easy to feel. Sometimes it has to be a choice. Two paths lie before us: hope and despair. Despair takes the mindset and attitude that says, “I already know how these ends, and it is bad.” But hope says, “No! You have not seen this path yet. You do not know where this road will end. But it does not have to be bad. There is something good at the end of this something, something yet to come.” Hope says the road may be dark, but I believe there is still light and goodness at the end of the path, even though I cannot see it right now.

Choosing hope is not easy. It is easy, rather, to despair of things. But that does not mean that despair is right. What does hope look like, though? What do I do if I choose to hope? The kind of hope that ends up at the light and goodness is hoped that does not mean standstill. It is hoped that empowers you to make a change. To hope is to fight back and not to give up. One of the primary ways this can be achieved is through deciding to get the help you need. This is often an embarrassing and difficult decision because it requires admitting to yourself and others the extent of your problems. But I promise it is much better than continuing down the dark path of despair. This help can come in the form of learning more about the nature and risk of the substance with which you are struggling, learning about treatment methods, and learning about treatment options and programs.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the problems the coronavirus has exacerbated is the distance from others. If possible and safe, bringing family and friends around—even if it is distanced, masked, over Zoom, or whatever else is needed—is an essential part of the journey to hope and recovery. Ever for those who are not currently struggling with substance abuse, we need structure around us. We need other people. Journeys taken alone are rarely bound for good destinations; having the right people around you to support you and help you along your path is critical to arriving where you want to go.


Overdoses During COVID Hit Record High Numbers