Drug overdoses a 'pandemic within the pandemic'

It's being called the "Pandemic within the Pandemic": As COVID-19 deaths continue to surge around the country, so do deaths related to drug overdoses. 

"We're talking about a crisis that in New York, and everywhere, is getting to horrific levels," said Harry Nelson, author of "The United States of Opioids."

A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the number of overdose-related cardiac calls received by EMS crews through August of 2020. 

"There was a huge triple-digit surge around May of this year in overdose-related cardiac arrests, so overdose deaths," said Leo Beltsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, who worked on the report.

Lockdown measures and social isolation are just one factor that helped create a perfect storm of sorts for those vulnerable to substance abuse.

"Social isolation and using alone and just making people stay put, had something to do with the overdose risk," Belsky said.

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Harry Nelson, also a health care lawyer, said that on top of isolation, help is less accessible during the pandemic. 

"It's about social isolation, it's about economic loss, worried they won't be able to afford basic needs," Nelson said. "And on a more fundamental level, it's also about the lack of access to care."

The pandemic makes accessing counseling services and the life-saving drug naloxone much harder for people with addictions. And because people are not seeing friends or family, they're more likely to be alone when they overdose.

The experts say that better prevention and treatment is needed during the pandemic, including improved access to counseling via telemedicine and better distribution of naloxone.