With each day that passes, the number of lives lost in COVID-19-related deaths continues to tragically grow. However, in a less noticed but equally important trend, we continue to gain insight into the countless deaths caused by lockdown measures intended to stop the virus’s spread.
The latest entry into this tragic account is a new data set showing drug overdose deaths skyrocketed in 2020 amid the height of pandemic lockdowns.
“New data shows that more Americans died of drug overdoses in the year leading to September 2020 than any 12-month period since the opioid epidemic began,” Axios reports. “The stubborn increase of such ‘deaths of despair’ shows that the opioid epidemic still has room to grow and that some of the social distancing steps we took to rein in the pandemic may have brought deadly side effects.”
Released this week by the Centers for Disease Control, the figures show that at least 87,000 people died from overdoses from October 2019 to September 2020. This amounts to a 29 percent increase from the same period in the previous year.
Last year President Donald Trump bragged that “we are making progress” in reducing opioid-related deaths, noting that they fell in 2018 “for the first time since 1990.” That 1.7 percent drop was thin evidence of success at the time, and it looks even less impressive in light of the the 6.5 percent increase recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019. When you add preliminary CDC data indicating that opioid-related deaths rose dramatically this year, you have even more reason to wonder whether the government is actually winning the war on drugs.
The 49,860 deaths involving opioids that the CDC counted in 2019 set a new record that is likely to be broken when the data for 2020 are finalized. “Synthetic opioids other than methadone,” the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs, were involved in 73 percent of opioid-related deaths last year. According to the CDC’s preliminary data, “the 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020.”
During the same period, total drug-related deaths rose by 18 percent. Although that includes increases in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine, the CDC says, “synthetic opioids are the primary driver,” and “the increases in drug overdose deaths appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.” As Zachary Siegel notes in a New York magazine piece, the pandemic and the lockdowns it inspired probably have driven drug-related deaths in two main ways: by contributing to the economic woes and social isolation that make drug use more appealing and by increasing the likelihood that people will use drugs without anyone else around, which magnifies the risk of fatal outcomes.
Although the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it have made matters worse, opioid-related deaths were already on the rise, which suggests once again that reducing access to prescription pain pills, the main thrust of the Trump administration’s strategy, has not had the intended effect. To the contrary, it has driven nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes that are more dangerous because their potency is inconsistent and unpredictable, while depriving bona fide patients of the medication they need to make their lives bearable.
The United States recorded over 81,000 drug overdose deaths in a 12-month stretch, the worst year-long total reported in American history.
The U.S. has long been struggling to combat the opioid epidemic, but experts say that the total between May 2019 and May 2020, published in a CDC report last week, can be at least partially attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, experts attribute the total to the pandemic’s disruption of in-person treatment and recovery when it began to spread nationwide in March. Americans who suffered from drug use were also increasingly likely to use drugs alone once they entered quarantine and were kept away from others, upping the risk that an overdose would prove fatal since nobody was available to contact already-burdened emergency services, the CDC report outlines.
Experts also said that already-lethal drugs themselves have become even more dangerous; since the pandemic caused supply problems for cartels and dealers, they mixed extremely potent drugs like fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Davidson was part of a surge in overdose deaths that hit Kentucky this spring. May was its deadliest month for overdoses in at least five years. At the end of August, the state had seen almost as many overdose deaths as it had in all of 2019.
It is not alone. National data is incomplete, but available information suggests U.S. drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high. Addiction experts blame the pandemic, which has left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programs, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply.
Stay home, save lives. This is the mantra many Californians have repeated and lived by for the last 10 months as their governor instituted some of the most draconian measures in the country. Watching their economy turn to shambles as thousands of businesses close their doors forever is making some folks grow weary of the COVID-19 lockdowns, and rightfully so.
Earlier this month, the city of San Francisco issued an order shutting down outside play for kids at playgrounds. Seriously. Even dating is banned unless it’s done masked, outside, and kiss free.
According to the order, residents can “meet with 1 other person who doesn’t live with you” to take a walk, “hang out at the park,” and play low-contact sports, such as golf, tennis, pickleball and bocce ball. However, couples cannot share equipment.
It’s utterly ridiculous.
Countless San Franciscan businesses have closed their doors forever and the city, whose population is nearly 900,000 has seen less than 200 coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic — 173 to be exact.
While folks aren’t dying from COVID-19 very often in the area, there is definitely a spike in deaths, and it is staggering. A record 621 people as of December 19 have died of drug overdoses in San Francisco. That is 360% more deaths than COVID-19.