Drug overdose deaths are surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, driven by increased substance use due to anxiety, social isolation and depression, reports Politico. A White House drug policy office analysis shows an 11.4 percent year-over-year increase in fatalities for the first four months of 2020, confirming experts’ fears that precautions like quarantines and lockdowns combined with economic uncertainty would exacerbate the addiction crisis. “The pandemic has caused my level of concern to go up,” said White House drug czar Jim Carroll, acknowledging that overdose deaths were starting to rise in the past year, after posting the first decline in three decades in 2018. The surge is prompting the drug policy office and federal agencies to convene regular meetings to size up how the pandemic has disrupted the opioid response.
The coronavirus threat put on hold a billion-dollar research program focused on new forms of addiction treatment. Studies on efforts to deliver medication-assisted therapies to inmates struggling with addiction were also paused. President Donald Trump made the opioid crisis a central issue for most of his presidency but has gone silent on the addiction issue since the pandemic exploded. Kentucky estimated it had a 25 percent increase in overdose deaths between January and March. The number of EMS overdose runs in the first week of April marked the highest on record in the past two years. West Virginia, another state hit disproportionately hard by the addiction crisis, reported 923 overdose-related calls in May, a 50 percent jump compared to year-earlier figures. “The concerns we have are related to the big challenges people are facing right now with Covid: isolation and uncertainty resulting in very high levels of stress,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse.