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Is COVID-19 Fueling the Next Opioid Epidemic?

Prior to COVID-19, progress had been made in the fight against the Opioid Epidemic. But have stay-at-home measures, unemployment and restricted access to health care created by the pandemic turned back the clock?

Is COVID-19 Fueling the Next Opioid Epidemic? The Data Says Yes.

As a behavioral health care provider, we’ve been studying drug and alcohol usage during the pandemic since it began. We’ve seen a clear and significant increase in substance use as well as reported mental health symptoms

Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the opioid epidemic dominated both local and national public health headlines. Between 2006-2012, 76 billion opioid pills flooded the country. Florida in particular became a focal point as the crisis developed. In fact, just last month, the Florida governor announced a $5 million pilot program to help fight the crisis in the state.

Prior to COVID-19, progress had been made: pill mills were shut down, prescribing protocols for opioids have been adjusted and lawsuits alleging that drug companies prioritized profits over public health have been filed and won. But have the stay-at-home measures, unemployment and restricted access to health care created by the pandemic turned back the clock?

To find out, we launched a survey in partnership with Project Opioid to understand how opioid abuse has been impacted by the pandemic.

Opioid Usage Rising Fast During Pandemic

We surveyed 785 Florida residents about their substance use pre-COVID compared to now.

Note: Some questions asked respondents to select each option that applied, so in a few instances, the total percentage will be greater than one hundred.

Click to see our full infographic about Florida's growing opioid use problem
Florida's Growing Opioid Problem Infographic

Click to see, share or download the full infographic.

Of those who reported opioid use:

  • 23% more report using opioids multiple times per day now compared to pre-Covid
  • 18% more report daily use now compared to pre-Covid

Not only is their reported usage skyrocketing compared to people who use other drugs, their usage patterns are accelerating even faster.

Those who reported opioid use were:

  • 101% more likely to report their use has increased to daily use, multiple times per day
  • 41% more likely to report their use has increased to daily use
  • 49% more likely to report their use increased to several times per week.

Seeking Treatment

Those who reported opioid use were also more likely to say they are or would consider addiction treatment. Approximately 71% said they are or would consider treatment compared to just 43% of those who report using other drugs.

Unfortunately, opioid users were 41% more likely to report access to health care has been difficult because of the pandemic and 34% more likely to report challenges accessing mental health in the early days of the pandemic than other respondents.

Of those not considering treatment, the majority of all respondents said they didn’t believe they needed it. Opioid users significantly over-index the rest of the respondents for giving other reasons for not seeking treatment, including being:

  • 74% more likely to cite the ability to pay for treatment
  • 32% more likely to not have insurance
  • 273% more likely to fear losing their job
  • 241% more likely to fear the impact on their family
  • 379% more likely to fear the impact on their social circle

How the Pandemic Influenced Opioid Use

We also asked survey participants to identify the reasons why they used substances. Opioid users were:

  • 189% more likely to report being physically dependent
  • 117% more likely to say treating pain
  • 77% more likely to report mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety
  • 49% more likely to report boredom
  • 18% more likely to report stress

When asked to identify the biggest reason they used a substance, opioid users were:

  • 138% more likely to select treating pain
  • 198% more likely to report being physically dependent
  • 15% more likely to say their use was to cope with mental health symptoms

Opioid users reported experiencing common mental health symptoms at a higher frequency than those who reported using other drugs. 

  • 88% reported anxiety/nervousness, making them 17% more likely to do so
  • 78% reported depression/loneliness, making them 12% more likely to do so
  • 51% reported anger/agitation, making them 26% more likely to do so
  • 47% reported sleep issues, making them 8% more likely to do so

In addition to mental health symptoms, opioids users were 112% more likely to say they tested positive for COVID-19, putting additional strain on not only their mental but physical health as well.

Opioid users were also more likely to report increased tensions at home. Over half said COVID-19 had a negative impact on their relationships within their household and nearly a quarter reported a “significant negative impact.” They were 81% more likely to report “significantly more” arguments within the household since the emergence of COVID-19.

Connecting Floridians with the Help They Need

Opioid addiction is a leading contributor to overdose deaths. In 2018, there were 67,367 fatal overdoses. Opioids were responsible for 69.5% of them. Getting help with an opioid addiction is an important step in managing both physical and mental health and can literally save your life.

To help support Floridians facing addiction or mental health concerns, The Recovery Village operates adult drug and alcohol rehab centers in Umatilla, Orlando, Lake Worth, Atlantis and Miami, in partnership with Baptist Health South Florida as well as a specialty facility designed for teen drug and alcohol rehab in Sebring.

We offer a full spectrum of care, including telehealth for ongoing outpatient treatment and teletherapy for substance use and mental health conditions. Contact us to learn more about a treatment program that can meet your unique needs.

For press inquiries, email [email protected]

Florida Governor’s Office. “Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Hold Roundtable Regarding the Opioid Crisis in Seminole County.” October 28, 2020. Accessed November 13, 2020.

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