While many people in the medical profession are concentrating on flattening the curve and finding a vaccine for COVID-19, the opioid epidemic is quietly taking lives. What’s even worse is that as there is a lesser supply of street drugs due to shut down borders, fentanyl is pervasive.
Fentanyl Overdosing Startlingly High During COVID-19
COVID-19 has presented many challenges for the recovery community. Some treatment centers have been forced to stall or upend their admissions processes, leaving people with nowhere to go. Some sober homes essentially evicted residents overnight. Some people, unable to get to 12-step meetings, may end up relapsing. And all the while, US borders shut down, stifling the flow of drugs like cocaine and counterfeit Oxycontin from overseas.
It’s also true that people with opioid use disorder are vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. If they are actively using drugs, they’re taking physical risks by going out around strangers.
People have struggled to get safe access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment.
In Denver, where marijuana flows free, there has been a 282% increase in deadly overdoses in the first six months of the year.
Isolation Make Addiction More Deadly
Some overdoses are attributed to physical isolation. Before COVID-19, many people were using their drugs together. Some savvy users carry Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, as a form of harm reduction. Using drugs with partners made it more likely that there is Naloxone available and a person to administer it. Other people can watch or prepare for the possibility of an overdose.
Many people who are addicted to drugs are desperate to get their hands on their drugs of choice. And in many cases, it turns out that the street drugs they purchased were laced with fentanyl.
Just about a year ago, doctors in the state of Colorado were given permission to prescribe marijuana to treat opioid addiction. Denver is thought of as a playground for people who use pot recreationally. Advocates say that people would stop overdosing on opioids if marijuana was a part of their treatment.
Yet overdoses are happening. And fentanyl — added to pills, crystals — and powders, is increasingly the cause of the overdoses that turn deadly.
Fentanyl will continue to be a public health crisis, but for now, it remains a casualty of inept governance. The opioid war is still raging on, even though it seems that there aren’t enough funds or even enough interest to try to fight it right now.