It is another deadly milestone. For the first time ever, the number of fatal drug overdoses has topped 100,000 in the year ending April 2021, according to CDC provisional data.
The majority (75%) of those overdoses involved an opioid. However, deaths were found in increasing numbers with methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription pain medications as well.
The question is why?
We asked those who battled addiction during the pandemic to share their thoughts on why addiction skyrocketed during this time. Following are the most common reasons cited.
One of the most consequential events for our nation since 9/11, the COVID pandemic was a traumatic shift in our everyday lives. From losing friends and loved ones and mental health disturbances to busted routines and financial issues, the change was swift and its reverberations deep. Even now, with the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants, there are people still struggling with the direct impacts of COVID.
Isolation brought on by the pandemic is one of the main reasons overdose rates increased throughout the country for the year ending April 2021. In-person meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were largely shut down. Restaurant dining, travel, movies, concerts, and even outdoor sports were nonexistent. Our social lives were abruptly suspended… and that’s one of the tough parts, as addiction can thrive in isolation. The early days of the pandemic left millions of people at home, alone.
Working from home
Along with being home and isolated, millions of people started working from home for the first time when the pandemic hit. While they were potentially safe from getting the virus, working at home meant more unsupervised time in which substances could be used. Many of those who used drugs “recreationally” (on weekends or once in while) are now struggling with full-blown addiction because they could suddenly use daily and still get their work done.
Fewer people to check in on you
Again, socializing with friends and family ground to a halt during the pandemic. Exposure to fewer people meant that there were fewer people who were able to tell if you were struggling with addiction. How can someone know that you are having problems if they are not seeing you anymore? The lack of accountability enabled addiction to take root and thrive.
Turmoil in the world
It doesn’t matter where you stand on the issues. The recent past has been tumultuous for all of us… and the tension has not really let up. Added to this is a steady stream of apprehension-invoking headlines that are hard to escape from. Chances are, when you go on social media or turn on the news, you are not going to be happy with what you see and hear. That constant turmoil means you are going to have more people battling anxiety and depression, a perfect catalyst for increasing drug use as people turn to substances to cope.
Easier access to drugs
One thing that has changed significantly over the last few years is the access people have to drugs. Starting with opioids and marijuana, you can literally get them delivered to your house without a single problem. While the companies themselves are not directly selling drugs to people, the fact is that people are using social media apps, payment apps and more to get drugs. It’s easier than it has ever been to get illegal substances.
Harder to find help
The pandemic made it more difficult for people to access help for a variety of things. This includes people who were interested in going to rehab or attending support groups. While many facilities were still open, some had restricted hours and/or outbreaks of COVID that affected their ability to operate.
Some people also lost health insurance during the pandemic – health insurance which they needed to pay for addiction treatment. Even those with Medicare and Medicaid insurance face reduced options when it comes to finding an addiction treatment center that takes those insurances, as they have lower reimbursement rates than do private insurance offerings.
It may seem counterintuitive, but having more money can be just as much of a problem when it comes to addiction as of having too little.
During the year ended April 2021, people on unemployment received additional federal payments to beef up their budgets. As well, there was a moratorium on evictions which led to less financial pressure to pay rent on time every month. And now, even though those temporary measures have largely ended, jobs are now paying more than ever for people as the demand for labor has exploded.
While this is great for most people, for some it has only added to the problem. Drugs cost money. Therefore, if you have addiction problems, more money is not always a good thing. Increased income has led to fewer people with financial constraints on their drug use.
Preventing an overdose
Addiction is an increasing problem in America today. However, there are things we can do to lessen its impact and help those who are struggling to recover. The stakes are high… more and more substances are laced with deadly fentanyl. Beyond Narcan, helping people get clean is the way to prevent future overdoses.
Knowing this, what can you do?
First, understand the struggle. Addiction is a disease, and the person suffering has little to no control over it. Therefore, outside help is critical in facilitating recovery. Without it, their dependency on these substances is likely to only grow worse.
There are more resources than ever before to get loved ones the help they need. Research is key. Contact addiction treatment center professionals to learn how to approach someone about their drug problem. They can also shed light on the options available and what the next steps would be when the person is ready to get clean.
Most of all, let your friend or family member know that you care. It gives them something to live for and something to get sober and clean for. Even if they don’t act immediately, they will know you are there for them.
And, rather than them feeling they have to go through this battle alone, you can offer to walk with them on their journey to sobriety as much as you are able. The impact one person can make in the life of another cannot be underestimated. We all need a little help sometimes!