Data from Pennsylvania has shown that opioid overdoses spiked during the (ongoing) Covid-19 pandemic. Many people have been affected by the pandemic, life has completely changed for everyone. However, imagine the dangers when a pandemic collides with an existing epidemic: the opioid crisis. Stay-at-home orders were needed to slow the spread of the virus and reduce death, but data recently coming out has started to show severe consequences with people struggling with addiction. The point of this article will not be a retroactive attack or analysis of stay-at-home orders and lockdown, rather it will be a look into those who continue to suffer in silence. For some the lockdowns were a new chance to reconnect with family, or an abyss of boredom. For those struggling with addiction the lockdowns could’ve felt like a trap with no escape from their demons.
Unfortunately there is still a gap in knowledge on how Covid-19 affected the opioid epidemic, but studies coming out so far are not giving positive signs. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (The CDC, a name almost everyone knows by now) prior to 2020 an average of 128 Americans died daily from an opioid overdose. The CDC reported that overdose deaths drastically increased during the pandemic, finding that 81,000 deaths occurred in the US in the 12 months ending in May 2020.
This is the highest number of overdose deaths to date recorded in a 12 month period. CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. said that, “the disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard…as we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”
Data from the CDC has found that “synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl)… increas[ed] 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020.” It was also found that “overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent” and “overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent. The number of deaths involving psychostimulants now exceeds the number of cocaine-involved deaths.”
An article written by researchers Brian King, Andrea Rishworth, and Ruchi Patel has begun asking the questions on how stay-at-home orders and other ways to mitigate Covid-19 in Pennsylvania have affected those struggling with addiction. There is still little research and data exploring this correlation, as the authors say “We believe this presents an urgent need for research on the relationships between COVID-19 policy responses and patterns of opioid use and misuse.”
Pennsylvania in particular is one of the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, having 65% of opioid related deaths in 2018. King and his colleagues found “both fatal and nonfatal cases of opioid-related overdose from January 2019 through July 2020 revealed statistically significant increases in overdose incidents for both men and women, among whites and Blacks, and across several age groups, most notably the 30-39 and 40-49 groups, following April 1.” Their study also found that “statistically significant increases in overdoses involving heroin, fentanyl, fentanyl analogs or other synthetic opioids, pharmaceutical opioids and carfentanil.”
As stated before, the research and inquiry is not a critique on stay-at-home orders; it is looking at the unintended consequences of such orders. Covid-19 continues to ravage the states, unfortunately resulting in more complications with an unresolved epidemic.