The CDC Says Overdose Deaths Are Accelerating During COVID-19
We have all been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. For some of us, we contracted the virus and suffered long-lasting symptoms and a painful recovery. Others endured the loss of a loved one or a prolonged hospitalization that left us scared and full of anxiety. Additionally, others lost their jobs and experienced financial hardships. Some faced the fear they weren’t capable of being parents and homeschool teachers simultaneously. The pandemic caused shutdowns and restricted visitation among families. Isolation took its toll on everyone, no matter their age, race, or religion.
For me, the realization that I was not in control of what was happening was the worst. The feeling of lack of control can affect people in different ways. Even if we are aware and accept that we have no control over certain things, when something traumatic occurs, it may still trigger a response that we could not foresee. What started as a couple of weeks of inconvenience turned into more than a year of unknowns, deep sadness, anxiety, and tragedy for many individuals.
This unprecedented crisis is the cause of an acceleration of overdose deaths. The facts are alarming, but there are a few things that we can do to help slow drug related overdose deaths associated with COVID-19. I want to share some facts, coping strategies, and guidance that I hope offers hope in what feels like a potentially hopeless period of time.
Alarming Facts about Drug Overdose Stats
As I read the latest article put out by the CDC that identifies the astounding increase in overdose related deaths during COVID-19, I was saddened yet not surprised. Over the last year, cancers have been left undetected or untreated, surgeries have been postponed, mental health therapy has lapsed, and addictions have worsened or resurfaced at a rapid rate.
The drug overdose facts surrounding the addiction epidemic are alarming.
- More than 81,000 deaths have occurred over the last year (ending in May 2020). According to the CDC, this is the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in a 12-month time frame.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has a direct correlation to the number of drug overdose deaths.
- Synthetic opioids are at the top of the list of the most common killers, increasing 35% in a year.
- Overdose deaths related to the overuse of cocaine increased by 26.5%.
- Psychostimulants are now considered to exceed the cocaine related deaths as they have increased by 34.8%.
Drug Overdose Deaths Are on the Rise
Opioids seem to be where the focus is when targeting a classification of drugs that result in overdose death. Often people aren’t even aware that heroin, fentanyl, and codeine fall under this umbrella. Education is so important in creating awareness of the dangers of these particular substances.
Co-use of opioids and other substances account for an extraordinary amount of overdose deaths and are likely underestimated in statistics. Often this data is not accurately represented due to a large population of homeless and incarcerated people that die from overdoses of other substances and are not counted due to poor reporting.
Cocaine related overdose deaths are on the rise as well. As people try to deal with heightened fears and extreme loss, they often turn to mood stimulating substances such as cocaine to get them through a hard time. This leads to continued use over time, and often, people don’t realize the danger, thus leading to the accidental death of an overdose.
Methamphetamine use still needs to be considered in this equation, as it is responsible for an almost 35% increase during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Not every addiction overdose leads to death, and Naloxone can help reverse in many cases this sad situation. I’d personally have seen an increase in the use of this medication during emergency situations where overdose is probable. Most first responders and police in our area are trained to administer the drug. The only way for it to be effective is for it to be widely available for use when needed. Therefore, we need to take action to ensure pharmacies have it in stock, education, and training is provided to first responders, and insurance copays are reduced for patients. I feel the use of naloxone could save many more lives.
How Can We Cope?
A key factor in overcoming my own addiction in my journey of recovery has been learning effective ways to cope during the ups and downs that accompany all of us throughout life. There are many ways to help you cope with your emotions during tragic events, relapses, and other struggles throughout your journey.
It never hurts to call attention to what I consider some of the best coping skills when going through stressful times that seem impossible to conquer.
- Therapy or counseling is extremely helpful and can provide you with new coping strategies or coach you on how to best use ones that you have already adopted. It’s up to you whether you are more comfortable in a one-to-one setting or a group setting.
- Relaxation techniques have been a constant in my recovery from the very start. Daily meditation, aroma therapy, and yoga are all types of relaxation techniques that can be practiced, and the benefits are long-lasting even when you’re not actively participating in them.
- Physical activity of any kind (walking, running, biking, hiking) provides the increased production of our happy hormones and endorphins. (I personally love biking!) A little movement goes a long way in stabilizing our moods and motivating us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.
- Having a strong social support system helps me hold everything together. I need my support system for accountability and for providing positive role models in my recovery journey.
If you need help setting up coping mechanisms or just need someone to talk to, reach out to me and let’s help each other through this. Sometimes having a friend and being a friend are equally important when it comes to mental health.
What Strategies Are the CDC Considering
It feels promising to me to learn that the CDC is committed to strategizing how to prevent more drug overdose deaths from occurring. Due to the “Overdose Data to Action” cooperative agreement established in September 2019, funds have been set aside to help support health care departments that are working towards improving prevention and response efforts.
I will highlight the CDC’s strategy below to optimistically share what I feel can be seen as a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel these efforts represent in a time of darkness.
- Data is being collected then used to find trends and direct prevention tactics moving forward.
- State and local agencies are being strengthened so they can better respond to the drug overdose epidemic.
- Health systems and their providers are working together to reduce the overuse of prescribed opioids and addiction treatment programs have been revamped.
- Overdose threats are being identified more rapidly by community based public safety departments, and more effective treatment is becoming available to those who are struggling with opioid use.
- Overall public awareness of the negative effects of opioid use is being used as an educational tool, so the risks of using are well-known.
What Can We Do to Help?
In my opinion, the answer to this question is to listen and be educated.
Together we can help stop the stigma that people experience when struggling with addiction. Overall awareness of the topic of drug overdose is important as we move forward in the COVID-19 pandemic and after. I ask you to please take the time to educate yourself, maybe get trained on the administration of Naloxone and show your support in the effort to stop the upward trend of drug overdose deaths. It is possible someone in your own family or a close friend’s life depends on it.