Originally Published on The Daily Beast
Authorities nationwide are reporting an uptick in fatal opioid overdoses during social distancing.
Lynn sat in the parking lot of her opioid treatment clinic in Columbus, Ohio, for hours on a recent Tuesday. Like in other parts of the country, the coronavirus pandemic was leading to longer wait times for medication—in this case, Suboxone.
Around her, people idled in their cars or stood in a smoking area until the doctor called them inside via text message. The process to get treatment took nearly four hours. “I was worried COVID might escalate more. I didn’t want to be dependent on something that I wouldn’t be able to get all of a sudden,” said the 30-year-old, who asked to be identified only by her middle name. “I kind of weaned myself off Suboxone. That led to an overdose.”
Lynn has struggled with heroin addiction since 2018. She said she hadn’t used opioids for three months, until she was hit by the stresses and isolation of COVID-19, which public health officials fear may be contributing to relapses in Ohio’s recovery community and beyond. Lynn thought she could taper off doses of Suboxone, a drug containing buprenorphine that’s used to treat opiate addiction, in case the pandemic caused more roadblocks for her treatment.
But on a Saturday night in late March, Lynn overdosed at her apartment after using heroin laced with fentanyl. When her boyfriend realized the blow dryer was running for a long time, he shoved through the bathroom door and found her, then administered Narcan, a brand of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. “As soon as I took one puzzle piece out of place,” she said, “the whole thing fell apart.”
Amid social distancing, authorities nationwide are reporting a surge in fatal opioid overdoses. Addiction and recovery advocates say the U.S. is now battling two epidemics at once. From 1999 to 2018, opioid overdoses involving prescription and illicit drugs have killed nearly 450,000 Americans. (One recent study found an additional 99,160 opioid deaths, previously unreported because of incomplete medical records.