Addiction treatment shrinks during the pandemic, leaving people with nowhere to turn
The opioid crisis, or, more aptly, the overdose crisis, has plagued the U.S. for two decades. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death, claiming 70,000 American lives each year. Opioids contribute to 130 deaths daily, enough people to fill a commercial airliner.
As a medical sociologist who has researched the opioid crisis for the last decade, I have seen the havoc it has wrought. Here is how I see COVID-19 making it worse.
A glimmer of hope, dashed
Overdose deaths increased steadily each year since 1999 until they declined 4.1% in 2018, largely due to fewer deaths involving prescription opioids. Experts suggest that lower opioid prescribing rates, expanded treatment access and increased naloxone access help explain the decline.
That brief downturn gave way to steeply rising overdose death rates in 2019 and 2020 as deaths involving other drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine rose.
Not only are numbers going up, but the drugs that contribute to overdose have changed.