UNITED STATES: Drug overdose deaths soared to a record high last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. government reported on Wednesday.
An estimate of 93,331 Americans died of overdoses in 2020 – surpassing the 2019 record of 72,000 deaths by nearly 30%.
“This is a staggering loss of human life,” said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends. He added that the United States was already facing an overdose epidemic but the pandemic “has greatly exacerbated the crisis.”
According to health experts, while prescription painkillers once played a key role in U.S. drug overdose deaths, heroin and then in recent years fentanyl — a dangerously powerful opioid — proved exceptionally lethal. The synthetic opioid is said to be 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl was developed to legitimately treat intense medical pain from ailments like cancer, but now is “contaminating” other drugs as dealers add pharmaceutical fentanyl to street drugs and sell illicitly.
Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get, experts said. “During the pandemic, a lot of [drug] programs weren’t able to operate. Street-level outreach was very difficult. People were very isolated,” said Dr Joshua M. Sharfstein, a health policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Lost to an epidemic, in a pandemic
Jordan McGlashen died of a heroin and fentanyl overdose in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, apartment last year, CBS News reported.
He was pronounced dead on May 6, the day before his 39th birthday. “It was really difficult for me to think about the way in which Jordan died. He was alone, and suffering emotionally and felt like he had to use again,” wrote his younger brother, Collin McGlashen, about his Jordon’s addiction in an obituary.
In another case, Gina Malagold told BBC News that she blamed coronavirus stimulus cheques for enabling her brother, Dylan’s drug habit. Gina’s brother first overdosed in April 2020. With many beds occupied by coronavirus patients, their family struggled to find him a rehab clinic. After testing positive for Covid, Dylan self-isolated and died from an overdose.
“The disease is so incredible. It is a disease. We need to treat it like any other disease because that is what it is,” Gina told the BBC.