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Are Drug Overdoses Increasing During The Pandemic?

As the global pandemic continues, deaths by overdose are surging nationwide. The uncertainty that surrounds COVID-19 has brought with it countless challenges for people across the country, from financial strain to the revolving door of questions about the future. Studies have revealed an all-time high in mental health-related issues and substance use, both of which directly contribute to drug-related overdoses and suicides. 

While the precariousness that many people feel regarding the pandemic has definitely contributed to the spike in numbers, the root of the issue goes even further. Many people who were in recovery lost their outlets. Those struggling with addiction lost their ability to meet with sponsors or attend in-person 12-Step programs. You can no longer enter a gym to release tension, or visit a friend for coffee when you need to talk. For some, even a walk around the block can meet serious obstacles. The ongoing health scare, widespread job loss, and lack of available treatment have all played a part in the increase in overdoses. Even more critical is the fact that addiction thrives in isolation, and social distancing and stay-at-home mandates made isolating one of the first things people were required to do.

How Much Have Overdoses Increased This Year?

The pandemic’s negative consequences were felt almost immediately. By March of 2020, nationwide overdoses had soared 18% compared to the previous year. People were struggling with the ever-changing state mandates, on top of everything they were losing personally. Weeks turned into months, and we are now approaching a full year in a global pandemic, with some states still completely locked down.

In October 2020, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that U.S. drug overdoses were on track to reach an all-time high. Addiction experts blame the pandemic, stating that it has created intense negative emotions and disrupted treatment and recovery programs, leaving people to feel stuck with fending for themselves. The System for Opioid Overdose Surveillance reported a 29% rise in first responders’ use of naloxone, hitting an all-time high by summer. Naloxone is a drug medical professionals use to reverse an opioid overdose. According to the American Medical Association, more than 35 states reported increases in opioid-related mortalities by the end of October 2020.

Although year-end statistics for national overdose are not yet available, officials are expecting to hit record highs, especially since the pandemic caused intense holiday mandates and the U.S. witnessed a record number of COVID cases. The concerns surrounding COVID-19 are rising even as we enter into the new year. More Americans are anxious, overstressed, isolated, and fearful for their financial stability. Each of these risk factors contributes negatively to anyone’s mental well-being, and especially for those who already have a substance use disorder.   

Who’s Most At Risk?

Every American has been affected adversely by the pandemic – some more than others. Young adults have shown to be the most affected, with overdose rates doubling over the last year. Boredom, loneliness, and additional stressors can all be triggers for addiction. Due to nationwide mandates to shelter in place and social distance, many people are using drugs or alcohol alone, rather than with someone who could call 911 in case they experience an overdose. 

Individuals who are in recovery are at higher risk for overdose, as they have lost access to many healthy outlets. The combination of added stress and the lack of coping mechanisms make a perfect recipe for relapse. Additionally, the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program reported an alarming 44% increase in overdose deaths among African-Americans, in line with national trends. 

What Kind Of Help Is Available?

The federal government has eased regulations during the pandemic, making it easier for physicians to treat patients with substance use disorders. Patients are able to receive prescriptions for medications such as buprenorphine all through their smartphones or similar devices. This allows for individuals to receive the treatment they need while still practicing social distance requirements. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a policy allowing patients to obtain up to 28 days of take-home medications. This, too, allows for individuals to practice social distancing, and eliminates the need to rely on inconsistent public transportation. 

As we begin this new year, we are all continuing to feel the effects of COVID-19. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving or even simplifying the overdose epidemic. The current spike in mental health issues must be addressed and acknowledged. At RECO Intensive, we know the importance of personalized care, and we are here for you to achieve a better life, no matter the circumstances. 


Even before the current pandemic, our country was experiencing an opioid crisis. Individuals and their families were being tormented by the effects of dangerous drugs, and then 2020 added a new layer of chaos. With increased stress and decreased access to services, people have faced new and trying challenges throughout the entire year, and as we begin the new year, the damaging effects of the coronavirus are still as present as ever. Although government officials are working to help decrease drug overdoses, some of us desperately need assistance now. Some treatment centers have remained open, fully aware of how essential their services can be to those in crisis. At RECO, our team consists of a plethora of professionals who understand first-hand what you’re going through. We are here with open doors to assist with addiction and mental health disorders. Our team of experts can help you break free of addiction, guide you in your recovery, and overcome anxiety and depression. Reach out to RECO Intensive at (561) 464-6533.

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