People pouring out of a giant open drug capsule

Consequences of the Pandemic – Surging Drug Abuse

One of the most populous counties in Ohio reported last month a dramatic jump in fatal drug overdoses deaths. These deaths were largely caused by fentanyl, a powerful and highly dangerous prescription drug, and a highly trafficked drug on the black market. The demographic group most affected was young adults. These deaths occurred when many Americans thought we had turned a corner concerning the epidemic of prescription drug abuse,  overdoses and deaths.

The pandemic seems to be driving a rise in such drug abuse. Drug abuse has increased during the pandemic not only for the highly dangerous opioid fentanyl, but also for methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine along with a rise in overdose deaths. Many times, deaths are related to the users electing to combine drugs creating unpredictable and often deadly consequences.

The Relationship Between The Economy, Mental Health and Drug Abuse

Should we really be surprised at the resurgence of drug overdose deaths? No. Economists and behavioral health researchers have long documented the relationship of economic factors (in this case the impact of the COVID-19 on the U.S. economy) on mental health and substance misuse in the U.S. and in other industrialized societies. We know that economic downturns have a substantial impact on the prevalence of common mental issues generally, as well as more serious concerns such as suicidal behaviors and substance abuse. In turn, these issues impact business productivity, their health care costs, rises in crime, and in domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence.  All of these consequences should be concerns to business leaders.

How The Pandemic Affects Drug Abuse 

To the economic impact of the pandemic, add the additional stress created from restricted access to normal, everyday stress-relieving activities. Take away activities such as socializing with friends and family, dining out, enjoying in-person sporting, entertainment and cultural events, and access to exercise facilities.  Not to mention the fear and grief associated with 230,000 deaths and the stress around the disruption of normal school, work, and transportation routines.

Furthermore, too often lost among this is the fact that 22 million Americans are engaged in a daily effort to maintain their recovery from substance misuse. In the best of times, this is a challenge. Many more are actively misusing drugs and are not in treatment. Each year about 70,000 Americans die from drug overdoses. Patients need access to clinical care and peer support groups and related services. The pandemic has restricted access and, in some cases, diverted health care resources away from those in need. So, while the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the nation also continues to confront a drug abuse epidemic within the pandemic.

What Businesses Can Do

Like Covid-19, this societal problem is a business issue. No business has immunity from it.  And no vaccine is “just around the corner.” No industry, no demographic group, no zip code is spared. Here’s what businesses should be doing now.

  • Visit with vendors that provide services to your organization that help prevent and address substance abuse and addiction.
  • Partner with these vendors to provide solutions that afford early detection and intervention for substance misuse.
  • Partner with groups in your community that create awareness and positive actions to address this epidemic within the pandemic.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.


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