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How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Fueling Drug Overdoses in Kentucky


Kentucky reached its highest number of overdose-related fatalities in the last five years this past May. In alignment with stricter lockdowns and public health regulations due to the coronavirus pandemic, deaths skyrocketed in the spring. Deaths from drug overdoses in Kentucky nearly equaled the number of total fatalities for 2019 by the end of August 2020.


But it’s not just Kentucky, data shows that national levels of overdose deaths are reaching an all-time high. 


The Root of the Overdose Issue

It’s easy to point to the pandemic as the reason that 2020 was so devastating for drug users. And while there’s no denying that COVID wreaked havoc on the mental and physical health of so many US residents, the brutal truth is that the pandemic exacerbated a problem that already existed.


The five years before the pandemic saw the United States squarely in the midst of an opioid crisis of critical proportions. America’s overdose epidemic was so widespread and so fatal that the country recorded 71,000 overdose deaths in 2019 alone. It was dubbed the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history.


Troubling New Developments

Now the crisis has worsened considerably. In December, the CDC released new information indicating that 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the States between May 2019 and May 2020. This is the highest number of overdose deaths in the US ever recorded in any 12-month period.


The pandemic is behind this massive jump in numbers and it should come as no surprise. So many individuals are experiencing loneliness, isolation, extreme stress, and anxiety. Unfortunately, these emotional triggers are mostly unaddressed due to the disruption of treatment, the suspension of in-person recovery programs, and the massive strain on the mental healthcare system.


And the final factor in this perfect storm of devastation? There is evidence that a scarcity of street drugs – perhaps due to border closures – saw some consumers turning to more easily accessible psychotropic prescription drugs to help them cope with their emotions. Others sought out methamphetamine and fentanyl when importation issues led to a shortage of heroin. There’s a much higher chance that users could be injecting a toxic mismash of substances directly into their veins, because of the deteriorating quality of street drugs.


What Happened In Kentucky?

In an analysis of year-over-year data, Kentucky registered a 22 percent increase in overdose-related deaths compared to the same time last year. This is a solid four percent higher than the national average, although drug overdoses in Kentucky sit squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to overdose death increases. Topping the chart is the District of Columbia, where overdose deaths have jumped by a horrifying 60 percent since 2019.


The adverse effects of disrupted recovery services cannot be understated. The lack of face-to-face services could mean the difference between sobriety and relapse for those in recovery. 


But, there may be just a hint of a silver lining after so much devastation. Help is on the way for Kentuckians suffering under the weight of opioid abuse. New grants are enabling community recovery efforts. Hope may seem like a speck on the horizon, but it is there, nonetheless.


For those who need hope and help now, Landmark Recovery is here to support you on your journey to sobriety. Changing your life starts with a single call; reach out today to learn how to get started. We’re here for you, and we genuinely care. 

About the Author


Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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