Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Opioid Crisis in America

According to the CDC, “Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.”[1]

 

How did we get here?

History of the opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic in the United States began in the late 1990s. Opioid pharmaceutical companies began to aggressively market drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet for chronic pain and made claims these drugs were less addictive than previously used medicinal opioids like heroin, morphine, and opium which had caused epidemics in the United States during the Wild West years and in China before the brutal intervention of the Maoist regime. Companies like Purdue Pharma have been successfully sued in court and there are pending lawsuits from various US states against these companies.

Drug abuse statistics

Opioid overdose statistics 2020

  • From 1999 to 2020, around 750,000 Americans died from opioid overdose according to the CDC[2]
  • By 2017, there were 70,237 recorded drug overdose deaths
  • About 130 died daily from opioid overdose in 2017
  • Persons with opioid addiction have the following demographic trends: caucaisan, young, for females 1.2 million with opioid addiction, for males 900,000 (in 2015)
  • In 2011 US President Barack Obama set aside millions to fight the opioid epidemic
  • In 2017 US President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a National Emergency
  • Overdose deaths have increased by six times since 1999

How the Covid-19 Pandemic started

Timeline

2012 -2013

According to The Washington Post, in 2012, six people who were clearing out bat feces in Yunnan province developed a flu virus similar to Covid-19.[3]

 

2015

University of North Carolina Researcher and subsequently WIV head researcher Shi Zhengli mutates bat coronavirus to attack human cells for gain of function studies.[4]

 

2018

US Embassy in Wuhan “warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.”[5]

 

1 December 2019

First verified case of COVID-19 in and individual with no connection to wet markets.[6]

 

14 January 2020

WHO infamously tweets that there is no evidence that COVID 19 transmits from human to human. [7]

 

3 February 2020

Shi Zhengli’s team at WIV is the first to report the virus known now as COVID-19 according to the Washington Post.

 

7 February 2020

US announces 17.8 tons of “masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.” sent to China. [8]

 

10 February 2020 — China’s COIVD deaths tops SARS, 908 to 774

 

2020 February 11

The Disease is named COVID-19 by the WHO.

 

2 March 2020

US Surgen General Tweets: “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!”[9]

 

12 March – WHO declares a Pandemic

 

May 2020

The Hunnan food market is ruled out as the source of the outbreak by Chinese authorities.[10]

 

July 2020

Surgeon General corrects earlier messages and makes plea for Americans to wear face masks.[11]

 

March 2020

US declares a national emergency over the pandemic.[12]

 

May 2020

US deaths top 100,000

 

10 June

COVID cases reach 2 million. Undetected cases puts the figure of 8.7 million.

 

8 September

Astra Zeneca halts vaccine trial due to an adverse reaction. General adverse reactons to any vaccines can include: anaphylaxis, MS-like autoimmune reactions, Bell’s Pasly and immune thrombocytopenia.[13][14][15]

 

28 September 2020

According to the CDC covid deaths reach more than 1 million.

 

18 November 2020

US Fasttracked Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines show a 95 percent efficacy in prevention of COVID-19

Addressing the Opioid Crisis during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Are Opioid-Related Deaths On The Rise In America after Pandemic?

Yes.

In March 2020, suspected overdose deaths rose by 18 percent from the previous month.[16] In April, suspected overdose deaths rose by 29 %. In May 2020, suspected overdose deaths rose by 42 %.

During the pandemic, drug testing rates have dropped by 70 %. For the individuals who were tested, positivity rates increased 35 % for fentanyl and 44 % for heroin. There are significant increases in poly drug abuse also, i.e.  mixing of opioids with amphetamines like meth and adderall, and also drugs like cocaine and benzodiazepines. Fentanyl abuse rose by 50 percent during the covid 19 pandemic according to the research report entitled The Opioid Epidemic Within the COVID-19 Pandemic: Drug Testing in 2020.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Perpetuates Substance Use Disorders

Stay at home orders can increase symptoms of loneliness which decrease the body’s natural production of opioids like morphine, endorphins, and feel good chemicals like oxytocin.[17]   Opioids can become a crutch to replace these substances that the body may be starved for and the individual may react with fear and anxiety. This may explain the uptick in drug use during the pandemic. Also, since drug use is transmitted hand to hand and sometimes snorted, drug routes may be utilized by the virus as a means of transmission.

In 2020 there was an increase of 11 percent for fatal overdoses and 19 percent for nonfatal overdoses. According to a report by the Wellbeing Trust, the pandemic may lead to an increase in mortality from alcohol abuse, suicides, and drug overdose including opioid overdose and poly drug overdose in the United States and other countries.

Here’s how to recognize a drug overdose and what to do. First, go to your local pharmacy and get Narcan (naloxone) nasal spray.

Symptoms of opioid overdose

Pre-overdose

  • Pupils are small
  • Muscles are limp
  • Person has nodded out
  • Slurring speech

Overdose

  1. They will lose consciousness
  2. Unresponsive
  3. Can’t speak but might be awake
  4. Slow breathing
  5. Choking sounds
  6. Vomiting
  7. Limp
  8. Pale, clammy
  9. Slow pulse or skipped beats
  10. Blue finger tips
  11. Blue lips

What to do when someone overdoses[18]

  1. Call 911 and give your full location, make sure they have a call back number for if the call gets cut off.
  2. Attempt waking the person up.
  3. Check the pulse and breathing.
  4. Administer naloxone (Narcan) to them. Lay them on their back. Tilt the chin up, make sure the airway is clear. For injectables draw up the needle and hit them in the thigh. For nasal naloxone, stick it all the way up the nose and push the plunger.
  5. Now do rescue breathing with them on their back. Pinch the nose, put your mouth over theirs and give them two breaths and watch the chest rise every 5 seconds. Remember, they may vomit when they wake up so be careful and turn them to the side if they vomit to clear the airway. You may also compress the chest to cause an exhale and help the heart pump. Chest compressions alone are not recommended in opioid overdose since respiratory depression is the main problem, not cardiac arrest.
  6. Stay with them till rescue personnel arrive.

Some users may wonder does cocaine kill coronavirus as this was a breakout search term in 2020. While there is no evidence as ofthat it can do this, cocaine poses it’s own overdose risk. Research into the effectiveness of marijuana and CBD in coronavirus is on the other hand is ongoing and looking positive. Cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties in the lungs and body and may reduce lung inflammation when inhaled. Also, smoking cannabis alone without tobacco is not associated with an increase in lung cancers so the anti-inflammatory effect from smoking as well as taking edibles could be useful in covid if smoking is unable to occur.

If you have fallen victim to the use of opioids or alcohol caused by loneliness and economic downturn during the pandemic, help is available.

Get Help Managing Opioid Use During the Pandemic

Many mental health treatment services have gone online during the pandemic. If you have stopped going to your psychiatrist or need a psychiatrist for a substance abuse problem that has gotten out of hand, look no further than your phone or computer. The mental health services in your city may have electronic intake, insurance processing, and then online therapy sessions and you can even have medications mailed to you by your pharmacy. So if you need a little bit of help, don’t be embarrassed.  Becoming addicted to substances, internet, sex, gambling, or food is just a normal part of life. The important thing is to recognize when excess is harming you and doing something effective to end it.

How To Prevent Opioid Addictions During the Pandemic

Since we recognize that lack of social contact, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and the economic downturn may be fueling the opioid epidemic, we can identify ways to prevent addictions during the pandemic.

Social contact can be done by making a point to check in on friends, family, and relatives by Facetime, phone, and internet. When visiting relatives in person, wear masks even indoors anytime you speak with a person, and use one clean mask per day. Have a mask for each day of the week and wash them at the end of the week so you have a fresh mask everyday. Sanitize and wash hands several times per day. Mrna vaccines are new, so if you have the bravery to participate in the vaccine rollout and you accept the risks, you can get the vaccine. All vaccines have risks, usually they are of rare autoimmune responses in a small set of people. It is not yet known how MRNA vaccines may affect the fetuses of pregnant women. However, COVID19 itself has a higher incidence of causing autoimmune complications than the vaccine. Those with previous episodes of anaphylaxis or autoimmune conditions may choose to wait for post-market reports on adverse effects of the vaccines, and rely on aggressive use of masks and sanitation. If they get the vaccine, an Epi-pen dose should be ready.

Lastly, the virus is less concentrated and spreads less outdoors because there is much more surface area and air to dilute it. Even in lock down, where permitted, spend much time outdoors. As a thought experiment, imagine if everyone smoked. Anywhere you can smell smoke if everyone were smoking, is a place where coronavirus might be lingering close to your body. You can imagine that people wearing masks will block smoke coming from their mouths, and going outdoors will dilute smoke. Opening windows and keeping air moving would dilute smoke indoors. It will do the same for viral particles. The exercise, fresh air, nature, and time with loved ones will help lift your spirits and discourage drug use. With coordination, love, and patience, you can make it out of the COVID19 epidemic and the opioid drug epidemic, stronger, happier, and wiser.

Disclaimer: None of the information on this site is a replacement for advice from your physician, the CDC, your government, or the WHO.

 

Endnotes

1  https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/responding-to-opioid-overdose/.

 

2 .” https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/index.html.

 

3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/02/05/coronavirus-origins-mystery-china/.

4 https://www.med.unc.edu/orfeome/files/2018/03/a-sars-like-cluster-of-circulating-bat-coronaviruses-shows-potential-for-human-emergence.pdf.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-department-cables-warned-safety-issues-wuhan-lab-studying-bat-coronaviruses/..

 

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/wuhan-seafood-market-may-not-be-source-novel-virus-spreading-globally.

 

7 https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-world-health-organization-draws-flak-for-coronavirus-response-11581525207.

 

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/29/opinions/coronavirus-personal-protective-equipment-obeidallah/index.html..

 

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/29/health/face-masks-coronavirus-surgeon-general-trnd/index.html.

 

10  https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-rules-out-animal-market-and-lab-as-coronavirus-origin-11590517508.

 

11  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-surgeon-general-jerome-adams-wearing-masks-face-the-nation/.

 

12  https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020.

 

13  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/12/health/covid-vaccine-death.html.

 

14  https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crihem/2016/7913092/.

 

15 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/underlying-conditions.html.

 

16  https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/POP.2020.0230.

 

17  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/4/100426-natural-morphine-drugs-humans-mice/.

 

18 https://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/responding-to-opioid-overdose/.

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