The Impact of Two Epidemics: Addiction and COVID-19

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: August 22, 2021

The addiction epidemic was already a massive problem throughout the United States. Rates of substance abuse, overdose, and more are on the rise year over year. 70,980 people died of a drug overdose in 2019, a 4.6% increase over the year before.

Unfortunately, 2020 has only made the problem worse. COVID-19 swept across the globe, sending people into a panic and forcing them into their homes. The effects of the coronavirus were far more than physical, though. High levels of stress often lead people to seek relief through alcohol and substance use. Dozens of news articles confirmed the truth of that.

Now the United States has two epidemics on its hands: the addiction epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. And it seems like the response to COVID-19 has created a bigger addiction problem than before. States like Pennsylvania feel the added pressure on their efforts to curb the addiction crisis.

Battling the widespread addiction epidemic was difficult enough on its own. The effects of coronavirus have made the fight even more challenging. What did the addiction epidemic in Pennsylvania look like before coronavirus? How has the worldwide pandemic affected the state’s addiction problem?

The Impact of Two Epidemics: Addiction and COVID-19

The Extent of the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia

4,384 people died of a drug-related overdose in Pennsylvania in 2019. Though that’s an alarming, high number, overdose rates fell slightly each year from 2017 to 2019. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like the extent of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania may have been taking a turn for the better.

Then the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe and amplified the addiction problem in Pennsylvania. Studies released over the past few months show that the decline in previous years isn’t likely to continue. Battling against the widespread addiction epidemic on its own is difficult enough. It’s only gotten worse with the ongoing spread of coronavirus.

Even with the lower numbers, Pennsylvania still has the third-highest rate of deaths due to drug overdose in the country. The state has a serious opiate and opioid problem. Prescription painkillers and heroin are some of the most dangerous drugs available. More than 80 percent of fatal overdoses in 2019 were caused by opioids.

Pennsylvania Department of Health explains that the opioid and heroin epidemic the state’s worst public health crisis. All areas of the state feel the effects, from rural communities to the big cities. And combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has seen serious effects on citizens who struggle with substance abuse.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Addiction Epidemic

COVID-19 doesn’t only affect people with existing substance abuse problems. The pandemic created a widespread feeling of fear throughout the entire world. Growing numbers of people are turning to alcohol and drugs for relief, too. More people are using substances to cope with the stress of stay-at-home orders and overall uncertainty.

Group gatherings were put on a hiatus to curb the spread of the coronavirus. No more restaurants, concerts, or church on Sundays. It also meant no more recovery meetings. People who relied on programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery now found themselves stuck at home.

Its easier to maintain long-term sobriety with a group. That’s one of the main benefits for people who attend recovery meetings. Accountability is an important part of recovery. Closing down in-person meetings limited that vital aspect. Meetings shifted online to keep the support going but people were still stuck at home.

Stay-at-home orders meant that more people were drinking and using alone. People relapsed behind closed doors. As a result, data reported by NPR revealed an 18% spike in overdose rates across the United States. The reports also showed an increase in fatal drug overdoses. Overall, 60% of the counties participating in the study reported higher drug overdose rates.

Addiction Statistics in the Time of Coronavirus

The Overdose Detection Mapping Program released a report on COVID’s impact on the addiction epidemic. According to their report, more than 40 states show higher numbers of opioid-related fatalities since March. Concerns about substance use disorders and mental illness, in general, continue growing as well. The ODMAP’s report revealed:

  • 17.6% increase in overdoses during stay-at-home orders between March 19 and May 19
  • 42% jump in nationwide overdoses in May alone
  • 30% spike in overdose alerts following the stay-at-home orders
  • 20% spike in weekly alerts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

As more reports release, the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the addiction epidemic will become clear. Until then, the alarming spike in substance abuse and overdose rates don’t look like they’re going to slow.

Addiction Treatment in Pennsylvania During COVID-19

Responding to Addiction and COVID-19’s Effects

Organizations throughout Pennsylvania worked to fight the addiction epidemic before COVID-19. Pennsylvania Department of Health established the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Then the Opioid Command Center in Pennsylvania was founded in 2017 to reduce the number of fatal overdoses.

Individuals and nonprofits also worked to limit the effects of the addiction epidemic. Chester County DA filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. Rosalind Pichardo founded Operation Save Our City. Her nonprofit organization is dedicated to saving lives in Philadelphia.

These fights against the addiction epidemic continued as the effects of COVID-19 became clear. Ray Barishansky of the Command Center explained, “We know that the effects of COVID-19 have seen renewed opioid concerns in many parts of the state, and we are working to address those needs.”

Safehouse, another Philadelphia nonprofit, is fighting now more than ever. They’re determined to introduce safe injection sites in Philadelphia. They hope that providing a safe place for people struggling with addiction can keep them alive long enough to get clean. In the face of higher overdose rates due to COVID-19, they’re pushing harder now than ever before.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a collection of resources. They are aimed at individuals struggling to control their alcohol and substance use. The CDC recognizes the effects of increased stress and the relief that substances seem to provide. Their resources suggest looking to alcohol and drug rehab facilities for addiction treatment.

Addiction Treatment in Pennsylvania During COVID-19

Addiction treatment centers are doing their best to help people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. They’re working to treat individuals with the progressive, deadly disease of addiction. Now they need to take extensive precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities.

COVID-19 led to higher rates of substance use, relapse, and overdose. It also impacted the way addiction treatment facilities can care for their clients. Growing concern about shared spaces creates a problem for programs trying to save clients’ lives. According to some facilities, fewer people are looking at treatment facilities for help.

This leads back to the problem of people drinking and using alone in their homes. Those who abuse substances and alcohol may not look for the live-saving treatment they need. But COVID-19 doesn’t mean that facilities aren’t safe. Programs dedicated to helping their clients stepped up to meet these new challenges.

Staying Sober in the Time of COVID-19

The problems arising from the combined epidemics are only starting to show. Time will reveal the true extent of COVID-19’s impact on the addiction epidemic in the United States. Until then, facilities are still available to help those looking for support. Peace Valley Recovery rose to the occasion to continue providing addiction treatment services.

Are you trying to stop using drugs and alcohol? Did the stress and pressure of COVID-19 cause you to turn back to substances for relief? That’s okay – we understand and we’re here to help. Reach out to us today to learn more about the programs we have available. If you’re ready to stop the cycle of addiction in your life, call us today at (215) 780-1953.

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