Between 2017–2018, the number of drug overdose deaths decreased by four percent in the United States. According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2018. It was the second-highest number of fatalities in this century, following the peak of 2017.
Although opioid-involved death rates decreased in 2018, nearly 70 percent of the deaths that year still involved an opioid. There are now indications that 2019 was closer to the record number of 2017 and early estimates for 2020 are troubling as well.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Overdose Data Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) published a report in May indicating that drug overdoses from January to April this year were up significantly compared to the same period in 2019.
“A comparison of raw numbers yields an increase of 11.39 percent for fatal overdoses and an increase of 18.64 percent for non-fatal overdoses during that same time period. May 2020 appears to be displaying a continuation of this trend, with an overall increase of 8 percent in overdoses in the first six days of the month, when compared to the previous year.”
The ODMAP data suggest that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the sharp increase in overdose cases: “Since the first reported case of COVID-19, suspected overdose submissions display an average increase of 20 percent when compared to the same time period during the previous year.”
Experts fear that the stress and isolation caused by the pandemic and the lockdown countermeasures have exacerbated the mental health crisis that was already plaguing the United States before the COVID outbreak. “After infections begin ebbing, a secondary pandemic of mental-health problems will follow,” wrote Ed Yong in The Atlantic. “At a moment of profound dread and uncertainty, people are being cut off from soothing human contact. … Children, whose bodies are mostly spared by the virus, may endure mental trauma that stays with them into adulthood.”
Severe, relentless stress, especially in the form of trauma is a major driver for anxiety, depression, substance use disorder (SUD), and other mental health issues. Now, you can add civil unrest to the stressors as well. The pandemic is also very dangerous for people already suffering from a SUD.
“People who suffer from the disease of addiction are particularly vulnerable to both catching the coronavirus and having a more severe disease when they do catch it,” wrote Peter Grinspoon, M.D. on the Harvard Health Blog in April. “There are many reasons for this, but they boil down to something called social determinants of health, which according to the CDC are ‘conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play [which] affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.’ In short, people suffering from addiction are vastly more vulnerable to coronavirus, as they are more likely to be homeless, poor, smokers with lung or cardiovascular disease, under- or uninsured, or have experienced serious health and socioeconomic issues from drug addiction.”
All of these factors are likely to re-ignite America’s addiction crisis. “Never did I imagine the nation would be experiencing the coinciding of mental health issues and infectious disease that my training addressed,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, the Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at a White House cabinet meeting in May, according to Roll Call.
Mental health issues can affect anyone, from every walk of life, and can come in many different forms with varying degrees of intensity. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) more than 19 percent of US adults experienced mental illness in 2018. That equals 47.6 million people, a number likely to be exceeded in the current climate of crisis.
“There is considerable evidence from population-based and clinical studies supporting a positive association between psychosocial adversity, negative affect, and chronic distress and addiction vulnerability” wrote Rajita Sinha in her 2008 study “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.”
The strong link between mental health issues and addiction suggests that treating a substance use disorder (SUD) successfully requires the identification and treatment of all relevant co-occurring disorders. The diagnostic process and therapies for these interrelated conditions can be complex, however. “Dual diagnosis” is a term used to describe the presence of addiction or SUD and other co-occurring mental health conditions.
Recovery Ways is a Joint Commission accredited dual-diagnosis treatment program, specializing in treating patients and their families affected by drug and alcohol misuse, as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders. Our clinical team of distinguished physicians, psychiatrists, and talented professional staff members treat the whole person by creating a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan aimed at a full recovery and a unique, holistic experience. Our recovery management model seeks to empower individuals and families in recovery to direct their own healing and maintain a sober lifestyle.