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Opioid Overdoses Rise During Covid-19

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Drug addiction

The opioid crisis in the United States was already serious. In 2017, 47,600 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose. However, the number of individuals who are at risk of overdosing far exceeds those numbers. Regular opioid users who suffer from opioid addiction, otherwise known as opioid use disorder, number 16 million worldwide and 2.1 million in the United States alone.

The above-mentioned opioid addiction and opioid overdose statistics paint a picture of the world before the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on and claims ever more lives, the opioid epidemic has somewhat receded from the headlines. Unfortunately, the media’s neglect of the opioid epidemic masks a startling and disturbing new fact: the coronavirus and the opioid epidemic are both making each other worse.

Opioid Epidemic During COVID-19

A new study published by the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the relationship between two national crises. On September 8th, the newspaper reported their analysis of data on opioid-related deaths throughout the United States. They tracked opioid overdose statistics throughout a number of areas and measured how the data changed over the course of 2020. They concluded that in almost every county in the country, overdose deaths have been on the rise since the Covid-19 epidemic first manifested.

The American Medical Association (AMFA) issued their own public warning in light of these facts. They warned that they were “greatly concerned” with the rising rates of opioid overdoses in the country.

Long before the Covid-19 epidemic stunned the world, the United States was mired in the third wave of its opioid epidemic. The first wave began in the 1990s when physicians began prescribing opioid analgesics, pain-killers such as Vicodin, at much higher rates. The second wave started in 2010, when affordable “black tar” heroin became widely available throughout the United States. The current third wave began in 2013 when synthetic opioids such as fentanyl not only became widely prescribed, but also began to be illicitly produced by drug cartels and other criminal organizations in illegal labs. These illicit forms of fentanyl, including fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil, are sometimes thousands of times more potent than morphine.

Why is the Pandemic Increasing Overdose Rates?

The reasons why the Covid-19 pandemic could be increasing opioid overdose deaths are numerous. It can be helpful to analyze how addictions occur in the first place. People are more likely to develop a substance use disorder when they are traumatized, poverty-stricken, and hopeless. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only resulted in thousands of hospitalizations and deaths throughout the country, it has also had a significant economic impact. With unemployment rates surging, the number of people who are struggling to make ends meet has also increased. Financial strain has been widely studied as a contributing factor to addiction and a common causal factor for relapse.

However, even individuals who test negative for Covid-19 and remain employed are finding their lives more difficult. The social distancing measures in place to curb the spread of the virus have made it more difficult to socialize and support each other. Loneliness and isolation are major factors that lead to substance abuse. When individuals who are already struggling with mental health problems are unable to take solace in their loved ones, they may well choose the alternative of getting temporary relief from drugs and alcohol.

Individuals who are in recovery and have been clean and sober for a long time are more vulnerable to relapse. Most people who successfully maintain their sobriety do so by connecting with others and making use of a social support system. Not only are these social support systems more difficult to access during the pandemic, but even many formal addiction resource centers have closed their doors or now have limited availability.

Getting Help

Fortunately, no one has to suffer alone. Addiction professionals are considered “essential workers” in the new Covid-19 economy. As such, sober living homes in Los Angeles remain viable options for individuals who are struggling with an opioid use disorder or feeling shaky in their sobriety. Sober living homes work with residents to help them develop the skills and recovery resources they need to maintain their sobriety, while also offering them a strong sober social support system. 

Structured sober living homes often go a step further, working with addicted young people to rebuild their lives from the ground up. Moreover, sober living homes may be one of the safest places to live during the pandemic. Staff work diligently to ensure the cleanliness and safety of residents. Sober living homes are designed to be comfortable and trigger-free sanctuaries that are removed from the dangers of the outside world. Perhaps there’s ever been a better time to get sober. Get in touch with us today!


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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