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The Drug & Alcohol Epidemic Has Intensified Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – Here’s What One Doctor Says We Should Do

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, especially people battling addiction. The drug and alcohol epidemic has gone into overdrive with a rise in overdoses. One doctor explains what needs to be done to slow it down inside…

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the United States and the world. And it's not hard to understand why.

The number of people dying from overdoses is dramatically rising in several states across the nation. Last year, numbers declined for the first time in three decades. Sadly, the pandemic came and reversed those numbers in 2020 causing drug deaths to go up an average 13% over the last year.

According to a press release from Recovery Centers of America, overdose deaths are going up in Ohio, New York, Florida and parts of Pennsylvania.

Overdose deaths have doubled in Chicago and are up in other parts of Illinois. Maryland and New Jersey are also seeing spikes in overdoses. According to data from the New Jersey state drug information dashboard, drug overdose deaths jumped 20% this year; 1,339 people died of suspected drug overdoses in the first five months of the year, 225 more than were recorded in 2019 over the same time period.

Calls to the “Disaster Distress Helpline” at the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has increased 891 percent during the pandemic. Recent research suggests that COVID-19 will lead to as many as 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from overdose or suicide.

So, what do we do about it?

Dr. Deni Carise, Chief Science Officer at Recovery Centers of America (“RCA”) and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explains what needs to be done to stop Americans from dying from substance abuse.

“We must use the collective momentum of the American people, at this time of unprecedented social change, to raise awareness that those suffering from substance use disorders are sick and need treatment or they will die, just like with other chronic diseases. An addiction to drugs or alcohol is not a behavior people choose,” she said. “As with all chronic diseases, treatment must include an ‘adequate dose’ or course of treatment, provided across a continuum of care, with appropriate services, for the appropriate length of time, delivered and supported with health insurance coverage. There are no cures for chronic diseases, and this is true whether we are talking about diabetes, hypertension, asthma, depression, or addiction.”

According to Dr. Carise, the remaining “wall of shame” or stigma associated with the disease of substance use disorder (SUD) must be completely torn down and society’s beliefs must change in order to accept SUD as a chronic disease.



Drawing on historical observations from the diseases of cancer, TB, and AIDS, Dr. Carise stated that it’s generally accepted that the stigma of a disease diminishes significantly when about 30% of those with the disease get treatment. In the case of SUD, while improvement has been made, only 10 percent of those suffering from SUD obtain treatment.

“Despite progress, the majority of society still thinks that people suffering from SUD have “brought it on themselves” and that all the ramifications that come with it, such as greater chance of death, complete loss of control, family dysfunction, are of their own making, thereby providing one more reason why people don’t seek treatment,” explained Dr. Carise.

Top priorities for state and federal public health officials and legislators during and after the pandemic, according to Dr. Carise, must include ensuring that SUD treatment capacity exists and that insurance coverage is in place without undue restrictions.

In order to save Americans, Dr. Carise said substance use disorder and behavioral health treatment must continue to be available at all levels of care.

If you need help locating any substance abuse treatment centers, you can find one HERE

Below are numbers to hotlines if you need someone to talk to:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

TTY: 1-800-799-4889

Website: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.

SAMHSA's National Helpline

1-800-662-HELP (4357)

TTY: 1-800-487-4889

Website: www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service, this Helpline provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish.

Disaster Distress Helpline


Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after any natural or human-caused disaster. Call this toll-free number to be connected to the nearest crisis center for information, support, and counseling.


There's multiple pandemics out here and just getting through the day sometimes feels like it's impossible.  We get it.  You're not alone. Take it one minute/hour/day at a time.

Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

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