The ubiquity of fentanyl and the unique social conditions caused by the pandemic combined to create a perfect storm, experts said. While some addicts seek out fentanyl, said Dr Volkow, others “may not have wanted to take it. But that’s what is sold, and the risk of overdosing is very high.
“A lot of people die without knowing what they are ingesting,” she added.
People struggling with drug addiction and those in recovery are prone to relapses, noted Dr. Volkow. The initial lockdowns of the pandemic and the subsequent unraveling of social media, along with the increase in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, helped create a health maelstrom.
The same is true of postponing treatment for substance abuse disorders, as healthcare providers nationwide have struggled to care for large numbers of coronavirus patients and have postponed d ‘other services.
Dr Joseph Lee, chairman and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, said community and social support lost during the pandemic, as well as school closures, have contributed to the increase in overdose deaths. “We see a lot of people who have been slow to get help and who seem to be sicker,” Dr Lee said.
The vast majority of these deaths, around 70 percent, were in men aged 25 to 54. And although the opioid crisis has been characterized as primarily affecting white Americans, a growing number of black Americans have also been affected.
There were regional variations in the number of deaths, with the largest year-over-year increases – exceeding 50 percent – in California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Vermont’s toll was low, but increased 85 percent during the reporting period.