Researchers Explore Pandemic’s Effect on Opioid Crisis

Study Explores Pandemic's Effect on Opioid Crisis

( – Social isolation and changes to the daily schedule affect everyone differently. So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit American shores in 2020, it left millions jobless and socially distanced from their closest friends and support systems. This situation, on top of a shift in the medical industry and a continued influx in illegal drugs, spurred on the already raging opioid pandemic facing the United States.

Chronic Pain Study Seeks to Understand COVID-19 Effects

By March 2021, researchers saw a clear rise in opioid overdose deaths from pre-pandemic levels. One study published in the Pain and Therapy journal pointed out patients with chronic pain received different care during the pandemic, potentially exacerbating the opioid epidemic. According to study results, pain-related prescriptions declined 15.1% as appointments went online to telehealth, likely pushing people suffering from chronic conditions to seek other avenues of pain relief.

In a similar vein, another study found doctors prescribed 6% fewer drug-free, hands-on therapies to treat chronic pain to their patients during the coronavirus pandemic. As fewer people sought out physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage to dull their pain, doctors prescribed 3.5% more opioids like oxycodone during the first six months of lockdowns. Additionally, these prescriptions tended to be for longer periods at higher levels. During that same half-year period, pain diagnoses fell 16%, making the uptick in opioid prescriptions unfortunate.

These factors contributed to the concurrent pandemics of opioid use, coronavirus, and now-insufficient chronic pain management.

Understanding the Pandemic’s Opioid Deaths

According to the CDC, in the 12 months leading up to May 2021, opioid overdoses killed at least 97,516 Americans. For comparison, the year leading up to May 2019 only had 67,795 proven opioid deaths. While access to quality healthcare had a part to play, researchers cannot ignore the fact social isolation, fear, and stress from job loss also likely contributed to opioid overdoses this year.

According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the National Institute on Drug Abuse director, this crisis disproportionately hits black Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan natives. Dr. Volkow told attendees at a national addiction conference mortality from fentanyl is rising the fastest among black communities, while methamphetamine overdoses are 12 times more likely among Indians and Alaskans.

Fentanyl Making Its Way to America

As drug traffickers lace more drugs with fentanyl, the insanely dangerous and potent opioid makes its way into more lives. People already addicted to stimulants like meth are not automatically resistant to opioids, so even a small dose mixed in with their other drug of choice can easily prove lethal.

While the Trump administration was able to help tamp down the opioid epidemic slightly with FDA-approved drug treatments during his first term, the coronavirus pandemic reversed any progress the former president made. Hopefully, America and its leadership can address these issues head-on to save another hundred thousand citizens from losing their lives in the next year.

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