When the coronavirus pandemic forced most of the United States to shelter in place this year, addiction researchers and government experts from the National Institute of Health predicted that drug use would spike, and they were correct. The conditions of a quarantine require that people purposefully isolate themselves from others.
Isolation for a person who is struggling with substance use disorder, also known as addiction, is one of the critical indicators of the presence of addiction. Similarly, anxiety about the future and financial security also torment people addicted to drugs and or alcohol even without the global influence of a deadly pandemic.
Drug overdoses are rising in 2020 and we know why
Global news providers are writing about the increase in drug overdoses during 2020 and directly attributing it to the emotional and mental effects of the pandemic and how government and health attention is fixated on COVID-19, diverting attention from addiction research and efforts. The digital media news outlet, ‘Politico’ recently reported official percentages from White House drug policy analysts on the drug overdose death rate increase.
A White House drug policy office analysis shows an 11.4 percent year-over-year increase in fatalities for the first four months of 2020, confirming experts’ early fears that precautions like quarantines and lockdowns combined with economic uncertainty would exacerbate the addiction crisis.
The digital news source also quoted Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who is worried about the particulars of sheltering in place for people generally but even more so for those with an addiction. “The concerns we have are related to the big challenges people are facing right now with COVID: isolation and uncertainty resulting in very high levels of stress,” said Volkow.
COVID-19 Increases the Opioid Epidemic
The White House drug czar Jim Carroll told Politico how the pandemic interrupted the progress that was being made on the opioid epidemic and accidental overdoses. “The pandemic has caused my level of concern to go up.” Carroll also acknowledged to Politico that overdose deaths had seen their first decline in three decades in 2018.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website, the decrease in drug-related deaths during 2018 supported the government efforts to reduce drug-related deaths, primarily due to the opioid epidemic. NIDA published the statistics which confirm what Carroll told Politico.
The most notable declines in drug-related deaths in 2018 per NIDA:
- In the U.S., there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths reported in 2018, 4.1% fewer deaths than in 2017.
- The age-adjusted rate declined by 4.6% to 20.7 per 100,000 standard population. The decline followed an increasing trend in the rate from 6.1 in 1999 to 21.7 in 2017.
- The number of deaths involving prescription opioids declined to 14,975 (a rate of 4.6) in 2018, and those involving heroin dropped to 14,996 (a rate of 4.7). (NIDA)
Although 2018 was a progressive year for a decline in addiction outfalls, according to Politico, necessary funds were halted for research. “The coronavirus threat put on hold a billion-dollar research program focused on new forms of addiction treatment, as part of a broader freeze on non-COVID-19 work at the National Institutes of Health.” However, despite what Politico reported, NIDA recently published how they are taking proactive action to counter the holds on drug addiction research that the pandemic put on pause.
NIDA has thus far issued nearly $4 million in funding for COVID-19-related projects. Those projects range from assessing the virus’s impact on individuals with a substance use disorder (SUD), including those who are homeless or incarcerated, to basic research to investigate potential interactions between drugs and COVID-19, including effects on the immune system. Since substance use may put people at increased risk for infection with SARS-CoV-2 or the most serious outcomes of COVID-19, several research projects will be assessing this. (NIDA)
We know that COVID-19 has not had a positive impact on the recovery community, as more people are relapsing because of all the stress and worry that the pandemic brings. Now more than ever it’s important to offer the proper resources and treatment for those that are struggling with substance use disorders.
Increase in Addiction Rates from the Pandemic Spreading
Since the pandemic continues to spread in the U.S., the challenges that drug addiction and alcohol cause for people will likely increase. It is essential to recognize how severe the disease of addiction is and how even something as grave as a global pandemic cannot stop substance abuse, accidental overdose, or death due to drug use. To put it plainly: addiction is a detrimental disease that affects millions of people. It will continue to exist regardless of what is going on in the world.
Another truth about addiction is that the progress that is made to help persons with a substance use disorder usually starts slowly and often takes years for them to recover completely. One day at a time is literal for people with the disease of addiction, but especially so during the coronavirus pandemic.