Giving Compass' Take:

• Drug overdoses in the U.S. were already steadily increasing before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are getting worse due to social isolation and the limits of telemedicine. 

• What can donors do to address these compounding issues? What approaches were working before the pandemic? 

• Read more about the opioid crisis and taking action in the private sector. 

America’s Covid-19 epidemic is likely making its drug overdose epidemic even worse.

While there’s no good national data for the year yet, local and state jurisdictions have reported increases in overdose deaths. According to the American Medical Association, as of July 20, more than 35 states have reported increases in drug-related deaths and other concerns with drug use and mental illness. Some municipalities reported overdose deaths increasing by 20, 40, or 60 percent — or more.

Even before the pandemic, there were signs that the drug overdose crisis was worsening. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found drug overdose deaths hit 72,000 in 2019, up almost 5 percent from nearly 69,000 in 2018. A preliminary study from researchers at Stanford, UCLA, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center found that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more potent and dangerous than heroin, has started to spread to illegal drug markets in the West — a trend that will likely cause more overdoses.

“Our data shows [overdoses] were increasing before the pandemic,” Chelsea Shover, a Stanford epidemiologist who led the study, told me. “I think the pandemic can only make it worse.”

The demands of social distancing have worsened social isolation, possibly leading more people to use drugs to cope. Social services and addiction treatment programs — many of which already lacked funding and rigor — have fallen to the side as the economic collapse has crushed public and private revenues, and social distancing has forced some places to close.

Meanwhile, the actions that different levels of government have taken to shore up the gaps caused by the pandemic simply haven’t been enough. As experts told me, telemedicine — while certainly helpful for many and better than nothing — simply can’t make up for being able to pick up new syringes or naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, at the local needle exchange program.

Read the full article about drug overdoses amid coronavirus by German Lopez at Vox.