As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country, so does the opioid epidemic. The pandemic has affected the use of drugs and alcohol, as more people are staying home and attempting to cope with isolation in a newly challenging world. The numbers are climbing as the US, including Texas, experiences an intersection of pandemic and opioid epidemic concerns.

National Numbers

The American Medical Association (AMA) states that it is seeing an increasing number of reports from national, state, and local media, suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder.

Although statistics have not caught up with the 2020 pandemic in relation to the opioid crisis, early numbers are concerning. So far, alcohol sales have risen by more than 25%. A recent analysis of 500,000 urine drug tests by Millennium Health, a national laboratory service, also showed worrisome trends: an increase of 32% for nonprescribed fentanyl, 20% for methamphetamine, and 10% for cocaine from mid-March through May. And suspected drug overdoses climbed 18% in the same period, according to a national tracking system run out of the University of Baltimore.

The Pandemic and Opioid Epidemic

COVID-19 has provided a haven of sorts for the opioid epidemic. Orders to stay at home during the pandemic have pushed individuals who are battling sobriety into isolation, decreasing their access to treatment as well as opportunities for distraction from their addiction.

Alarms are being raised that the current climate, given the virus outbreak and resulting fears and isolation, is a risk factor for substance use relapse. The New York Times has labeled the pandemic “a national relapse trigger.” Experts believe that social distancing is potentially concealing a surge of opioid abuse.

Texas Opioid-Involved Overdoses

Nationwide and in Texas, prescription and illegal opioids are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in 67,367 deaths in 2018, including 3,005 in Texas. Opioid overdoses in the U.S. have quadrupled since 1999. 

In 2018, the number of opioid-involved overdose deaths totaled 1,402 in the state of Texas. Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (mainly fentanyl and fentanyl analogs) accounted for 358 reported deaths. Deaths involving heroin or prescription opioids totaled 668 and 547, respectively. Healthcare providers in Texas wrote 47.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in 2018—the lowest rate in the state since 2006 when data became available.

Williamson County, Texas, Sees Spike

In Williamson County, Texas, which includes part of Austin and surrounding communities, officials are seeing a concerning spike in opioid overdose calls. The intersection of pandemic and opioid epidemic is especially evident in this area of the state. The recent spike in overdose calls here involves counterfeit pills. In the first two weeks of April, just a month after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the number of overdose calls increased five-fold in Williamson County.

Two types of counterfeit pills have been seen in the overdose calls:

  • The majority of the calls involve a round blue pill with the letter M on one side. Officials say they’re counterfeit oxycodone 30 mg pills and are commonly pressed, containing a dangerous amount of illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
  • The other pills are white, rectangular, and have three score marks on one side, and are pressed to look like Xanax 2 mg “bars.” These are presumed to contain illicitly manufactured fentanyl, as the overdose was reversed by naloxone. Fentanyl is a potent opioid that is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine. A fentanyl overdose can cause rapid loss of consciousness and respiratory arrest.

Under Texas law, anyone can possess and administer naloxone (trade name Narcan), which can reverse a fentanyl overdose if administered in a timely manner following the overdose.

Contact BRC Recovery for Help with Your Addiction During COVID-19

At BRC Recovery, we understand the devastating effects resulting from the intersection of pandemic and opioid epidemic challenges in Texas.  Even though you may be feeling isolated, you are not alone. At BRC Recovery, we will continue to support you through your addiction recovery, so you can be safe, healthy,  and build the life you’ve always wanted. Please call us at 1-866-291-2676 to learn more about the services we have to offer you to help you in your recovery during COVID-19.