The Other Epidemic: Drug Overdoses in America
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a lot of tests in our daily lives. In some cases, it has created new difficulties, while in others, it has made existing challenges even more trying. And the latter is especially true when it comes to drug use and overdoses in America.
Synthetic drugs are a real problem.
According to the CDC, synthetic opioid abuse has been an increasing problem for nearly a decade now. From 2013 to 2019, deaths from the use of synthetics in the United States have increased a staggering 1,040%, from 3,105 to 36,359. These statistics are related to illegal fentanyl and similar drugs. In addition, deaths related to psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine have increased 317% over the same time period.
Overall, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that more than 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2019. And based on preliminary data from the nonprofit group Partnership to End Addiction, the problem seems to be growing worse during the pandemic. Their early numbers indicate that overdoses increased 18% in March 2020 when compared to March 2019, and the increases jumped even higher in April (29%) and May (42%).
So what is causing this spike in overdoses?
There are a number of reasons behind this surge, says Spencer Eth, M.D., Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship Program at the University of Miami Health System.
“These drugs are powerful and obtainable in the community,” he says. “Tragically, especially in the aftermath of the prescription opioid epidemic, there are many people with a history of having received pain medications who will seek drugs that are far more dangerous than prescription opioid medications.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Eth says that issues related to the pandemic may be pouring fuel on a drug problem that is already burning out of control. “Disasters, external threats, economic disruption, traumatic loss and erosion of a support network have always been associated with increasing rates of more severe substance use disorders,” he says. “Now, the stressful impact of COVID has for many people led to a failed strategy of self-soothing through drug use.”
How can I tell if someone has a problem with drugs?
The statistics related to drug overdoses in America these days can be bleak. But we can rise to the challenge of combatting this trend.
Look for the signs of drug abuse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the key warning signs to look for include impairments related to their behavior, cognitive ability, or social interactions. These changes should be evident related to their work, relationships, or recreational activities.
If you know the person well, then you may already be aware of their drug use. Telltale signs that the drug is a big problem for the person include their desire but inability to quit the drug, cravings or urgings to use it, or continuing to use the drug despite its negative impact.
Should I intervene?
The idea of an “intervention” is often glorified on TV and in other media as a good treatment option for drug abusers. The reality is that this strategy is often not effective and can sometimes backfire and lead to violence. Instead, Dr. Eth suggests that you offer your loved one help, but don’t push the issue. The best thing you can do, he says, is refer them to professional support or assistance from a health care provider.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that people with addiction issues are often more likely to listen to and receive help from a professional. When dealing with a loved one, there may be existing emotional baggage that gets in the way of the person making a positive change.
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.