Has the Pandemic Attributed to Opioid Overdoses?

By Valerie Giraldo

The COVID-19 global pandemic, has affected every individual differently during this time. In addition to people struggling to find work and keep a roof over their heads, the nation’s opioid epidemic has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic. 

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as OxyCodone, HydroCodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. They are primarily used for pain relief, including anesthesia in a medical setting.

As of July, 2020, deaths from drug overdose in the USA rose by an estimated 13% in the first half of the year compared with 2019. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related cases as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder. 

“Overdose clusters have shifted from traditional centralized urban locations to adjacent and surrounding suburban and rural areas,” said Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) program manager Aliese Alter.

Experts believe continued isolation, economic issues, and disruptions to the drug trade that have happened during the COVID-19 pandemic are fueling the surge in overdoses.

The state of Florida has been one of the top five states to have an increasing amount of overdose within the past few months. Jacksonville, Florida has been specifically one of the cities with the highest percentage of overdoses. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department  receives an average of 15 calls a day for overdoses, which is 40% higher than the same time last year

“Folks that suffer from addictions, they need structure. Idle time is an enemy to them. They need to be busy and they need to be accountable and when you pull some of those things away from them, it could get them in trouble,” explained Major Todd Shear with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Since the pandemic many have faced challenges in different ways. Personalities have changed due to not being able to socialize as much. And if it’s not that, then it’s the struggle of losing their jobs and not having any positive outlook on life.  

Due to all of these things happening, sometimes to some people drugs are an outlet to be able to “let go” and not have to deal with everything going on. While the pandemic was going on you could tell it was making everyone depressed, even including myself. Some people deal with their problems differently, some of those ways are using drugs such as opioids. 

Some people who were already struggling before the pandemic, struggled even more when it all hit. Not having the help or guidance as some of us do to help one another get through this can be hard which can lead to resorting to drugs for that feeling of relief. 

Prior to the pandemic, REACH, a program for outpatient treatment of substance use disorder, saw about 15 new patients a week; since quarantine began, that’s been down to about five. Moreover, social-distancing requirements have meant the clinic has been seeing fewer people at a time.

Since there is a huge increase in unemployment, treatment centers have been closing little by little due to not having people checking in, which can then increase the amount of people overdosing. 

I feel that some states have more help and resources than others. Reading about specific states that have had severe increases in overdoses, such as Florida, makes sense because it’s a state that does not offer a ton of help for people in need. Once the numbers started going up, and this goes for any state, our governor should have realized what was going on and have people go out and help those in need. 

It is harder than it sounds but if states try as a whole to help their own people it does benefit everyone. During the pandemic there were times where I would not want to watch the news because I would see stories like this and it would make me lose hope in a country as a whole. 

But not watching the news and not educating each other does not help anyone or anything. Bringing more awareness to situations like these only help and make things better. Most of the people overdosing are also young teens, which is even worse since they are the future for our country. 

I do really hope that the governors of each state that have these increasing percentages can help these people receive the resources they need to get on the right path of recovery. And can help fund treatment centers so they can re open and help treat those in need.

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