Drug overdoses killed more than 100,000 Americans in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, as pressures built and users sometimes had to get their fix from unfamiliar sources. Experts discuss how the pandemic cost lives beyond Covid, and how surgical painkiller drug substitutions are beginning to keep some people from going down the opioid path.
Before the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the opioid epidemic was a crisis spreading rapidly across the nation. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2019 nearly 500,000 people died as a result of a drug overdose involving an opioid.
Then, starting in 2010, prescription opioids became more difficult to obtain. The already-deadly opioid epidemic grew even more bleak as users opted for the cheaper and more readily-available alternative: heroin.
In 2013, the epidemic grew even deadlier still, as synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, flooded the illicit drug market. From 2018 to 2019, nearly 73% of opioid-related deaths involved synthetic opioids.
Add in the coronavirus pandemic on top of all of that, and the United States is facing an even more formidable crisis, further exacerbated by the uncertainty, lack of access to care, and social isolation.
Dr. Thomas Stopka, Associate Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University, explains:
The Covid-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help and maybe greatly exacerbated the current situation with mental illness. That includes your substance use disorder and opioid use disorder. Now is the time to invest adequate support, to try to bring about change.
- Dr. Thomas Stopka, Associate Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University
- Dr. Luke Elms, general surgeon, Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips Hospital