The pandemic has worsened the opioid crisis, according to Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Opioid overdoses may have increased 30% to 40% during the COVID-19 pandemic, Volkow told WBUR. “We know also that from some of the reports from the states that there have been increases in overdose fatalities, that there have been increases in patients relapsing that had already achieved recovery. So we are hearing these distress calls from throughout the country,” she said.
Doctors are especially concerned that coronavirus lockdowns are leading to an increase in intentional overdoses and other suicide attempts, Volkow said. “We have to face the reality that … isolation is particularly hard for people suffering from substance use disorders, also depression or other psychiatric disorders,” she said. “Withdrawal and isolation actually just in general exacerbates the problem.”
The rising unemployment rate is also contributing to the problem by further isolating people, according to Volkow. “If you’re trying to achieve recovery, one of the components is that you want to integrate yourself to everyday life, and now it’s much harder to get jobs,” she said.
Treating opioid addiction
Opioids, which include heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain medications, carry strong risks of dependency, addiction and overdose. Even when use becomes harmful, it’s difficult for the person using opioids to stop without help.