As the COVID-19 pandemic killed more than half a million Americans, it also quietly ignited what was already one of the country’s biggest public health crises: drug addiction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 87,000 people have died from drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in September 2020 – the latest figures are available.
This victim is the largest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a year since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s, according to The New York Times.
Overdose deaths declined slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades.
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Nationally, the CDC attributes the increase in mortality from nationwide overdoses to daily disruptions caused by the pandemic, as well as to street formulations coated with the powerful painkiller fentanyl.
The coronavirus has disrupted many things that people who use opioids rely on, such as using drugs with friends who can revive them or seek help if someone seems to be overdosing.
The pandemic also forces drug users to rely on various sources for their drugs, so they may not have known what they were getting.
“Dealers associate these non-opioid drugs with cheaper but more powerful opioids to make more profit,”
“Someone who is addicted to a stimulant such as cocaine or methamphetamine is intolerant to opioids,” Wolkow added, “which means he will be at high risk of overdose if he receives an opioid-related stimulant such as fentanyl.”
The pandemic has forced those Americans who were already in the shadows to abandon economic instability and fear, while changing the treatment and support systems that can save them.
Experts say the devastation is an indictment of the public health infrastructure, which has failed to combat the dueling crises of COVID-19 and addiction.
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“The data points confirm something I believe, namely that people who have already used drugs have started using in higher-risk ways – especially by using it alone and from less reliable supplies,” Brendan Saloner, Associate Professor. at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which studies access to addiction treatment, he said.
Healthcare disorders have exacerbated the side effects of injecting drug use – HIV, hepatitis C, deadly bacterial infections that chew flesh to the bone and cause 20-year-olds amputations and open heart surgery.
“Because health departments spend so much on COVID, some programs really had to cut their budgets,” said Sarah Glick, an assistant professor at the University of Washington. “This could mean seeing fewer participants or pausing your tests for HIV and hepatitis C.”
Last week, the National Drug Control Policy Office outlined its priorities for the country’s ongoing drug crisis. The measures include a guarantee to address “systemic inequalities” in prevention, treatment and recovery.
The U.S. Rescue Plan Act includes $ 1.5 billion in drug abuse prevention and treatment, as well as $ 30 million in funding for local services that benefit addicts, including syringe exchange programs.
President Joe Biden’s new general surgeon, Dr. Vivek Murty, has committed himself to responsibility, although Biden has not yet appointed a permanent “drug king.”
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“As a child, I watched them call home in the middle of the night and wake up early to visit patients in the hospital before heading to their office,” he told senators during a confirmation hearing last month for his parents in Miami in his youth. “I tried to live according to the lessons they embodied: that we have a duty to help each other when we can, to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, and to return to the country that created their lives and my life, and my children’s lives are possible. “
He said he would make the recurrent opioid overdose crisis his top priority.
“We cannot ignore the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, especially the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographical health inequalities,” the doctor told senators lightly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.