A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses in Chicago, Illinois increased during a Covid-19 lockdown in March, April and May 2020. The deeper problem behind the story is that prolonged periods of isolation can lead to an increase in overdose deaths among addicts.
While lockdowns were necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19, public health officials, policymakers, community members, citizen leaders and families MUST be prepared to provide essential assistance and support to their communities during a lockdown. With rising opioid overdoses a dire reminder that any day could be the last day for addicts, those struggling with addiction problems need help as soon as possible in locating and finding effective drug treatment centers.
The CDC reports an increase in deaths from overdose during a Covid-19 lockdown
According to a March 2021 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people who died of opioid overdoses in Chicago’s Cook County rose more than 20% in 2020.
In the two years leading up to the pandemic, about 23 people died each week in Cook County from drug overdoses. However, in 2020 that number rose to 35 deaths per week, with the largest deaths being recorded during the lockdown months.
“Whether the increase observed during the home stay order was a continuation of the increases that began in the weeks prior to the home stay order or a transient increase associated with the home stay order, is unclear. The average number of deaths remained above the pre-2020 level even after the order was lifted … “
It is important to understand that there is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between the lockdowns and rising overdose deaths as the upward trend in overdose deaths in Cook County began before the initial lockdown. The researchers cited above cite: “Whether the increase observed during the home stay order was a continuation of the increases that began in the weeks prior to the home stay order or a transient increase that occurred with the home stay order Stay at home connected? not clear. The average death toll remained above pre-2020 levels even after the order was lifted, which is worrying as it could indicate an overall sustained upward trend in overdose deaths, as reported by the CDC using nationwide data for the final quarter of 2019 .
There are several factors contributing to the documented increase in overdose deaths during the pandemic. For one, the pandemic caused disruptions in the illicit drug supply, putting addicts at increased risk of overdosing (especially as their tolerance may have decreased due to the supply disruption). Addicts were also more likely to try other drug substances, replacing the opioid of their choice with more potent drugs such as fentanyl. In addition, addicts had less access to treatment services during the lockdown, making it more difficult for them to get help if they should reach out for it.
Finally, addicts were more likely to be alone for long periods of time, which further increased the risk. Most overdose deaths occur when a drug user is on their own, when no one is around to respond to their overdose.
The big picture in view – Isolation is both a symptom and a consequence of addiction
The most effective way to help drug and alcohol addicts is to understand the intricacies of Addiction. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear how harmful isolation is for addicts as the pandemic resulted in:
- More personal crises and fewer people to talk to / seekers of help.
- Disruptions in the drug supply chains that drive addicts to seek alternative, potentially more dangerous drugs
- Without medication for a long time, decreased tolerance to medication and thus increased likelihood of an overdose.
- Restricted access to drug treatment and other public health services.
- Increased isolation, an inherent and harmful symptom and consequence of addiction.
If people fail to find ways to address their life problems in a healthy way, they may become isolated and refuse to make contact with those who could help them with their problems. This often leads to self-destructive coping mechanisms such as the use of drugs or alcohol.
To complicate the crisis, addiction develops as a result of isolation, and isolation then also becomes a symptom of addiction. Someone who uses drugs and alcohol usually doesn’t want to be around other people, especially friends and family members who want nothing more than to see they get better and stop using harmful substances.
After the lockdowns are lifted, the isolation of addicts will continue
Unfortunately, although isolation will go away for most Americans if lockdowns wear off while the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control, this particular phenomenon of isolation will unfortunately continue for addicts. Addicts will continue to isolate themselves to some extent, as isolation is almost always an inherent aspect of addiction.
For these reasons, it is important not to just focus on getting the Covid-19 pandemic under control. If the pandemic has taught the American people anything, it is that there are many public health crises in the United States that are not getting much attention.
The isolating characteristic of addiction is just a problem, both a symptom and a consequence of the addiction. This aspect of addiction needs to be addressed quickly as the isolating tendencies of addicts can lead to deaths from overdose.
People struggling with addiction should get help as soon as possible
By their very nature, drug and alcohol addiction tend to marginalize people. Addicts often feel they need to isolate themselves and hide their drug or alcohol abuse so that no one finds out. In doing so, they often distance themselves from loved ones and even break ties with family and friends.
People struggling with addiction, those who isolate themselves from their family members and loved ones need to learn how to re-establish connections with those who matter most to them (and those who care for them). Unfortunately, reconnecting is a skill that addicts often lack. This is why it is so important for addicts to go to drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers as soon as possible.
A qualified, reputable, inpatient drug treatment center should have the tools to teach a recovering addict how to reconnect with loved ones. The Chicago story is a heartbreaking but very real example of how addicts are constantly on the cutting edge, and how just one additional crisis or hardship (like the Covid-19 pandemic) can overdose them.
Anyone who is currently struggling with drug and alcohol addiction should seek help in a treatment center in good time. And their family members, loved ones, friends, and community members should help them get into such a center.