Commentary: Where did the drug epidemic go?  

By Marcel Gemme 


For the few months or so, you may have become aware that we don’t hear anything about America’s drug epidemic anymore. One might believe that things have gotten better, so maybe we just aren’t hearing about it anymore. But the reality is that the COVID-19 outbreak has overshadowed the drug epidemic.  

The coronavirus is dominating the news and media coverage to the degree that there’s virtually no discussion of anything else. So, this leaves one to wonder, what’s happening with the nation’s previously top public health crisis? 

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) issued predictions of the potential implications for individuals with substance use disorders. These were all centered around the idea that those populations struggling with SUD would get hit particularly hard.  

For one, drug use itself is hard on the body and its vital organs. This fact makes it tougher to fight off COVID-19, which attacks the lungs in particular. Those who use drugs also live higher-risk lifestyles that can increase their exposure risk. So far, it appears these predictions have all been accurate. 

With so many people forced into isolation by social distancing measures, several communities have begun to report sharp increases in overdose deaths. In Jacksonville, Fla., a fire and rescue department reported a twenty percent increase in overdose-related emergency calls. Other places have seen scary spikes in fatalities, including an Ohio coroner’s office that had12 drug overdose deaths in one day during the first week of April. And in New York, four counties have reported increases in overdose deaths so far.  

Another factor that tells of how substance abuse is going amid this pandemic is the alcohol consumption rates. Experts at the University of Southern California have grown concerned about the welfare of those who struggle with addiction after noting that alcohol sales were up by 55 percent for late March. (This percentage increase is when compared with that same period in 2019.) And it’s not difficult to imagine why this is. With so much downtime, unemployment, financial issues and increased worry about the illness, it’s easy to see why more Americans are drinking more alcohol.  

This phenomenon is real with drug use, too. Increased environmental stressors lead to negative emotions that can trigger drug use or relapse for those who were in recovery. Perhaps that’s the explanation for the increased statistics. While it might be perplexing how a drug user could get drugs during a pandemic, those addicted to chemical substances are much more likely to disregard health and safety measures in pursuit of more drugs.  

Nothing has improved for the drug epidemic since it fell out of the spotlight. The COVID-19 pandemic is developing so rapidly that places like the CDC haven’t had time yet to gather national data on what exactly is happening. But as local reports emerge, the harsh reality appears to be aligned with early predictions. The drug epidemic didn’t go anywhere. We must continue to fight it.  


Marcel Gemme has been helping people who struggle with substance abuse for over 20 years and is the founder of the website, 






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