The pandemic death toll is both startling and sad, but other crises, including the addiction epidemic alongside the pandemic. Doctors say that overdose deaths from the opioid epidemic are higher than they have been in years, leaving families heartbroken. The damage has largely been uncounted by the media due to the unrest and pandemic, but it’s a true problem that is bubbling beneath the surface.
Places Hit Hard By Overdose Deaths
Overdoses have increased across the board in regions already hard-hit by the addiction epidemic. In Louisiana, “Just to give you some numbers, we had 233 total overdoses in 2020 compared to 154 in 2019,” said the Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich. ”We have seen an increase in methamphetamine as well. Still, the biggest increase is in fentanyl, literally if you are just going from year to year, in 2019 we had 75 fentanyl or fentanyl-related deaths, this past year it was up to 160, so more than double.”
In California, a large part of the population struggles with substance abuse and other poverty-related issues. Overdose deaths in California up almost 29% over the past year when comparing June 2019 to June 2020. Again, one of the leading causes of the overdoses has been fentanyl. The potent drug, often ingested unknowingly, is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Drug users often don’t know that the drug they’re using is fentanyl; it’s often passed off as Oxycontin and other opioids.
Overdose Victims Getting Younger
While deaths have multiplied, they are also trending younger. In California, doctors see more deaths between the ages of 20 and 34 from fentanyl. At the same time, prescriptions by doctors have been steadily decreasing by about 25% since 2015. Again, most of these deaths are from fentanyl, which seems to have taken the place of Oxycontin.
Why More Overdoses and Drug Use?
California doctor Aimee Moulin says that the pandemic has caused more people to self-medicate feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, or depression. The good news is that addiction is treatable and recovery is possible.
“Substance use disorder is a medical disease,” said Dr. Moulin. “It’s treatable, it’s a brain disease. We have essentially criminalized a disease, which increases stigma. It’s the only medical diagnosis that is a crime.”