Based on recent research findings, the destructive nature of addiction is continuing to ruin people’s lives across the nation. According to a report just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on data available for analysis as of July 4, 2021, U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2020 increased by nearly one third (30%) when compared with the prior year. Over 93,000 deaths associated with drug overdose were recorded, more than any other year since such recording began. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), stated, “This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999.”
And Volkow went on to identify the role the pandemic may likely have played, when she observed, “These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America.”
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) pointed out, “Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids [fentanyl], psychostimulants [meth], cocaine and semi-synthetic opioids [pain medication] also increased in 2020.” Given the number of drugs in which a rise in overdose deaths was reported for 2020, professionals in the field of addiction shared their perspective on how COVID has apparently contributed to the surge in death by drug overdose.
Since the U.S., as well as the rest of the world, was forced to endure a lengthy period of COVID-19-related, CDC-recommended isolation, studies have shown there were significant effects on people’s mental and emotional health, especially for those with substance use disorders (a.k.a., drug addiction, chemical dependency). In both 2020 and 2021, substantial increases in the prevalence of anxiety and depression have been found.
And even though the COVID vaccines have provided some freedom from the isolation and social distancing, still the troubles brought on by such have persisted. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the former Deputy Commissioner of the USDA and current Vice Dean for Public Health Practice at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, recently said, “As the pandemic recedes, we are still dealing with this overdose crisis,” adding he feels the FDA needs to exert more control over the over-prescription of opioids. “There are definitely actions that the clinical community can take to reduce the risk of people becoming addicted to opioids. The FDA oversight of medical and clinical practice is an area the agency acknowledges it needs to improve. The question of whether a particular drug should have been approved is not fair to ask. But now the emphasis should be on the oversight of prescribing.”
However, Volkow considers COVID to be the main influence. “This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths.”
One point of common ground both Volkow and Sharfstein share is their expressed concern that treatment options be expanded for those struggling with substance use disorders. Volkow concluded, “As we continue to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, we must prioritize making treatment options more widely available to people with substance use disorders.”