Significant Increase in Drug Use Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Isolation and uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by reduced access to treatment have led to a rise in suspected overdoses and an increase in substance use nationwide. More than 13 percent of Americans have started or increased substance use, including legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, and prescription drugs, to “cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19,” according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 10 percent seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to the survey. 

A new cross-sectional study of urine drug test results from 150,000 patients, co-authored by the US Department of Health & Human Services and Millennium Health and published in JAMA, confirms the troubling increase in substance misuse. 

“This study demonstrated that urine drug test positivity in a population diagnosed with or at risk of substance use disorders increased significantly for illicit cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine from the 4 months before the COVID-19 emergency declaration to the 4 months after the COVID-19 declaration.”

The drug tests were ordered by healthcare professionals between November 14, 2019, and July 10, 2020, and the analysis found that compared with the period before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, the population tested during the COVID-19 period were:

  • 19 percent more likely to test positive for cocaine
  • 67 percent more likely to test positive for fentanyl
  • 33 percent more likely to test positive for heroin
  • 23 percent more likely to test positive for methamphetamine

In Virginia, the number of emergency calls and deaths associated with drug overdoses has increased dramatically since the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring.

The Gazette-Virginian reported in September that Halifax County (pop. 36,241) has fielded 64 calls for drug overdose emergencies since the beginning of the year, and is investigating six deaths as having possibly resulted from suspected drug overdoses.

According to the Virginia State Police, local law enforcement, and local hospitals, two fatal heroin overdoses have been reported in Mecklenburg County and two fatal heroin overdose deaths in Charlotte County during the first six months of 2020, compared to none during the same time in 2019. 

The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place has seen a steady rise in the need for treatment since the beginning of the pandemic. Many families have been witnessing loved ones engage in progressively unhealthy behaviors but feel unsure what options are available to them. The Farley Center has taken significant steps to be able to continue serving patients at this time and is available to answer questions you may have. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and could benefit from addiction treatment services, please contact the Farley Center at 800.582.6066 to find out how we can help.