Opinion: 2020's Other Medical Crisis Scott Simon notes the 30 percent increase of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. during the first year of the pandemic.

Opinion: 2020's Other Medical Crisis

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I had no idea how many funerals I'd be going to, Dave Marlon of Las Vegas told us, including this weekend. Dave Marlon is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and CEO of CrossRoads, an addiction treatment center in Nevada. We spoke just after U.S. government statistics released this week revealed that a record 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, what we might call the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. That's an increase of nearly 30% from the previous year. It means that about 11 people died each hour on average, more than 250 people a day, from drug overdoses.

We called Dave Marlon because he's an addiction counselor and recovering addict, sober 16 years. He agrees with academic observers that life during the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for people who struggle with addiction and has increased deaths from overdoses.

Health care has been stretched and hospitals at times overwhelmed with critical COVID patients. Many in-person counseling programs had to be suspended, and not every person struggling with addiction was able to continue online. People lost jobs and income and suffered more anxiety and stress. Lots of people have felt overwhelmed and closed off.

Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse, told the AP that cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin are increasingly contaminated with fentanyl, which makes those drugs more dangerous.

Dave Marlon believes there's been another crucial factor, too - isolation, he told us. It's one of the key symptoms of addiction. And suddenly everyone is told, isolate.

Mr. Marlon says he's found support in his twice-weekly Zoom sessions with other people in recovery. But opiate withdrawal is painful, he says. People struggling to recover need real care and human connection.

America's economy and simple human optimism may be on the rise this summer, even as COVID cases are growing again. Schools and businesses are making plans to reopen in person. But addiction doesn't just disappear in better times, as Dave Marlon in Las Vegas told us. It's a lifelong struggle.

And if you struggle with addiction, there is help. The National Helpline is 1-800-662-4357, 1-800-662-HELP, or you can look online at findtreatment.gov.

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