Opioid Overdose Epidemic In The Mid Of The Pandemic

Summary: Opioid epidemic has been ongoing for a long. However, the covid-19 pandemic has made the opioid crisis worse for many reasons. First, it appears that due to social isolation, reduced income, and other reasons, people are seeking relief from opioids. Additionally, the opioid crisis is also being made worse due to reduced attention and allocation of resources, as everyone is focusing more on countering covid-19. However, researchers warn that this would have long-term adverse consequences, causing a prolonged upsurge in opioid misuse or substance abuse disorder (SUD).


Opioid overdose is among the major causes of death among young adults and is a highly preventable condition. Even covid-19 epidemic would cause less mortality among healthy adults, which means that one can reduce the risk of contracting the infection through various interventions. However, those living with substance abuse disorder (SUD) are less likely to take these measures.


The opioid overdose epidemic has been ongoing in various parts of the US for a long time. However, in early 2020, another epidemic, or rather a pandemic, struck the world, causing millions of deaths. However, covid-19 is far from over. It is subdued but not conquered. It keeps coming back in waves as new strains keep emerging. Moreover, there is no vaccine that can protect people from covid-19 in all cases.


The problem is that people are more likely to see drugs during the pandemic and lockdowns. This is evident from the nationwide data. People feel more stressed and isolated, and thus they seek relief from drugs. Hence, looking for a timely opioid addiction treatment becomes a non-negotiable way out.


Although, covid-19 is not as significant a threat as it used to be due to mass vaccination. Nonetheless, it remains a significant public health threat. Moreover, current vaccines do not provide complete protection, and even worse, the immunity provided by these vaccines is waning in many, and they need a booster dose.


Opioids suppress the respiratory system, worsening covid-19 outcomes


Although most people may visualize opioid epidemics and covid-19 as separate disorders, that is not the case. Opioids suppress the respiratory system, harm pulmonary health, and covid-19 mainly causes lung infection.


Studies show that those living with SUD are at a 30% greater risk of hospitalization and are much more likely to diet due to severe covid-19 infection. In addition, many studies suggest that opioid use disorder increases the risk of contracting covid-19 by several times.


However, the problem is that covid-19 is only making the opioid epidemic worse. Data suggests that since the beginning of covid-19, opioid overdose-related deaths have increased in many parts of the nation.


Health experts worry that covid-19 pandemic is laying the grounds for the long-term resurgence of SUD. There are many reasons, including social isolation, increased mental stress, loss of employment, reduced income, and more. In addition, Covid-19 and opiate dependence is causing what researchers call “deaths of despair.”


Although we are confident that every covid-19 wave will weaken, this pandemic will end in the long run. However, even if this pandemic tsunami recedes, it is going to leave much damage behind, causing a resurgence in the opioid crisis.


These issues are not only due to stress or social isolation. Covid-19 has also disrupted SUD treatment and social support infrastructure, as everyone is focusing on controlling the more severe condition, covid-19. It means that many people living with SUD have discontinued their treatment, and now bringing them back to the clinics would require much effort.


Doctors say that people need to understand that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. Unfortunately, healthcare workers and even family members have lost connection with those living with drug addiction.


Thus, the natural way to prevent further worsening of this condition is to start reconnecting with those living with opiate use disorder or SUD. Moreover, it is worth understanding that the opioid crisis may cause more mortalities in the long run than the current covid-19 wave. Of course, an adequate covid-19 response is essential, but it should not come at the expense of reduced attention to drug addiction.


Another less discussed reason for the opioid overdose epidemic is that covid-19 response has robbed healthcare workers of certain resources, as most of the sources are now being used to fight covid-19. Many of those affected by the opioid overdose epidemic see those poor policies as the significant causes driving the epidemic.

Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP

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