The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a cascade of changes in our daily lives, affecting everything from how and where we work to what we can safely do. Escalating rates of unemployment, homelessness, illness and death – coupled with fraying social norms and ongoing uncertainty – have created continually elevated stress and anxiety levels.
Alongside all this chaos, the opioid epidemic and related mental health issues have also worsened. Since March, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths.
Factors Driving the Increase in Opioid Deaths During COVID-19
Why has the pandemic caused the opioid epidemic to worsen so dramatically? Consider these reasons.
- Stress can lead to unhealthy choices: Daily anxiety levels have been at a near-constant high since the beginning of this year. The result has been a sharp increase in intoxicant use and a range of addictive behaviors. Opioids are an example of this trend. Often, people fall back on drugs and alcohol as their default “solution” to help them cope with stress. The specter of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than heroin – has created fertile ground for more accidental overdoses.
- More barriers to treatment: Many people are worried about exposing themselves to medical settings of any kind during COVID-19, unless they experience a life-threatening emergency. Unfortunately, users’ reluctance to seek help means many substance use disorders can continue worsening with no intervention, thus increasing the chances of opioid deaths.
- Less access to resources: The urgency surrounding the need to create practical pandemic responses has put many other public health initiatives on the back burner. Infrastructure addressing the opioid epidemic – already stretched thin in many places – has been one of many societal outlets to suffer during COVID-19. Before the pandemic hit U.S. shores, there were already huge shortfalls in community funding to help people with opioid use disorders. The financial strain of COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem, with states slashing their treatment budgets. Many people who need help are now facing their battle against addiction with limited access to support services.
- More people using substances alone: Though there are still many unknowns about this novel coronavirus, we understand how rapidly it can spread, and that the best way to prevent transmission is to avoid contact with others. You’ve probably had to cancel social activities and visits with friends and family. Self-isolation can severely affect your health, and can also trigger or aggravate addictions. Drug use could start to seem like a valid way to fill the void and cope with the loss of normalcy. If you’re taking opioids alone, nobody will notice if your habit seems to be spiraling out of control – and if you overdose and lose consciousness, there’s no one nearby to administer naloxone or call emergency services.
Don’t Become a Statistic
With no way of knowing when we might find our way out of this worldwide health crisis, the best we can do is to continue educating ourselves about CDC recommendations and following guidelines designed to help keep everyone healthy. If you find yourself relying on substance use more during the stress of the pandemic, Spearhead Lodge has taken extensive precautions to continue serving our clients during this time. We encourage you to reach out to us to learn more about our evidence-based addiction recovery for young men.