The US opioid crisis has been shaken up in the US in ways that are good and bad by the Covid pandemic. The usage and risk of overdose have increased and on the other hand, innovative treatment approaches have been formed.
Thomas Stopka, from Tufts University, said that an increase in opioid use and overdose death can definitely be attributed to the pandemic.
How Has The Opioid Epidemic Gotten Worse During Covid?
Stopka is an associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts School of Medicine in Boston.
He said that over the past 15 to 20 years, they have been seeing increases in the deaths due to opioid overdoses, but the increase from 2019 to 2020 was more than 30% and this is an increase from 70,000 in the past year to 93,000 in 2020.
He said that in order to cope with the pandemic, people have often turned to opioids, alcohol, and other drugs.
Stopka said that people have been so stressed about the infection from the pandemic coming into their neighborhoods, homes, and families that it seems to have had an impact on the usage of controlled substances.
He noted that the pandemic created an additional risk for the users of opioids by disrupting the supply chains for illicit drugs.
He added that the same way that there were shortages in food, toilet paper, and other necessities, Covid caused a shortage in opioids too.
He said that there might have been a breakage in supply for many folks who had been relying on a traditional pattern of supply over the course of many years as the overall supply chains have also been decimated by people falling sick and people taking care of their loved ones.
He added that people didn’t know exactly what they were getting when they could not rely on their typical source of illicit opioids.
A synthetic opioid that’s almost 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl, could be mixed with opioids due to the sources being new and this could increase the risk a person is exposed to of dying from an overdose.
Stopka said that people do not always know what they’re getting and there is a pretty good chance that there is going to be fentanyl in the heroin.
Zachary Talbott, the president of Talbott Legacy Centers said that another Covid era trend may have been contributed to by drugs that have been tainted with fentanyl. He said that people have been seeking treatment much earlier at programs that have developed flexibility in response to challenges during the pandemic.
Talbott runs a drug treatment program in Maryville.
He said that before, people who had a history of 10, 12, or even 15 years of problematic usage would find their way to the treatment center. Now, he said that people who have been using for just a year come in.
He said that the increase in overdoses has scared these people.
He said that people have found it easier to get treatment for the disorder caused by the usage of substances due to social distancing requirements that are inspired by Covid.
The pandemic, for example, has caused a massive rise in the usage of telehealth services in all fields of medicine.
The experts said that people who have a history of substance abuse have found it particularly helpful to get help remotely.
Talbott, a former opioid user himself, said that he recalled going to treatment that was four hours away every day.
He said that his privilege enabled him to do that, but for a vast majority of people, that is not achievable as they do not have vehicles.