The pandemic is creating the social conditions – no jobs, isolation, despair – that helped enable the opioid crisis to emerge in the first place. Now it’s back

10 Jul 2020

In West Virginia, they are bracing for the second wave.

The epidemic that hit the Appalachian state harder than any other in the US finally looked to be in retreat. Now it’s advancing again. Not coronavirus but opioid overdoses, with one scourge driving a resurgence of the other.

Covid-19 has claimed 93 lives in West Virginia over the past three months. That is only a fraction of those killed by drug overdoses, which caused nearly 1,000 deaths in the state in 2018 alone, mostly from opioids but also methamphetamine (also known as meth).

That year was better than the one before as the Appalachian state appeared to turn the tide on an epidemic that has ravaged the region for two decades, destroying lives, tearing apart families and dragging down local economies.


Now coronavirus looks to be undoing the advances made against a drug epidemic that has claimed close to 600,000 lives in the US over the past two decades. Worse, it is also laying the ground for a long-term resurgence of addiction by exacerbating many of the conditions, including unemployment, low incomes and isolation, that contributed to the rise of the opioid epidemic and “deaths of despair”.

“The number of opioid overdoses is skyrocketing and I don’t think it will be easily turned back,” said Dr Mike Brumage, former director of the West Virginia office of drug control policy.

“Once the tsunami of Covid-19 finally recedes, we’re going to be left with the social conditions that enabled the opioid crisis to emerge in the first place, and those are not going to go away.”

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