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Opioid Abuse Has Increased during the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

Since its onset, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly everyone. The uncertainty of the virus, the changes in daily routines, job losses, financial problems, and family and friends becoming ill have contributed to increased stress for people.

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Stress that is not managed properly can accumulate and have serious health implications. For instance, stress can be responsible for physical health problems, such as cardiovascular disease. It can also cause mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

For those who are especially vulnerable to substance abuse, the stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic has placed many people at risk. There is a growing health concern involving opioid abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 40 States Report an Increase in Opioid-Related Deaths

According to the American Medical Association, over 40 states have reported an increase in opioid-related deaths, as well as a growing concern for citizens with mental health or substance abuse disorders. Experts have confirmed that opioid addiction is increasing again in the United States during the coronavirus. Part of the reason for the growing number of addicts is due to the stress associated with isolation and the difficulty of finding help as facilities close and aid programs are cancelled during the pandemic.

According to Dr. Antontello Bonci, the chairman of Global Institutes on Addictions, “data shows that the pandemic has worsened not only the opioid abuse but most addictions and substance use disorders.” The problem with opioids is that they are highly addictive.

I have seen cases where someone is legally prescribed a strong pain reliever following an accident or injury. When the prescription runs out or the doctor is no longer willing to prescribe it, an addiction forms. This need for relief results in people resorting to heroin or fentanyl, which can have devastating effects on their health.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is stronger than heroin, and exposure to fentanyl in larger quantities can result in death. This drug is especially hazardous to law enforcement, who may encounter it during drug investigations.

Due to the Lung Damage Opioids Cause, Addicts Are More Vulnerable to the Coronavirus

During the coronavirus pandemic, opioids are especially dangerous because they adversely impact the lungs and overall health of the abuser. As a result, someone who uses opioids at high levels may be more susceptible to the coronavirus and may experience a more severe illness if he or she is infected with the virus.

People who have an opioid use disorder already face challenges to their respiratory health as opioids interact with the brain to slow breathing. The user is not only placed at an increased risk of a life-threatening overdose, but these types of drugs can also cause a harmful decrease in oxygen in the blood. This lack of oxygenation in the blood is dangerous, especially when the coronavirus is already diminishing someone’s lung capacity.

Various Resources Are Available to Help Those Struggling with Opioid Addiction

It is essential that users who struggle with an opioid addiction reach out to the resources that are available in their community or through their doctor. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24/7 helpline, available 365 days a year, that can help users to obtain information and referrals for individuals and families that are experiencing substance abuse disorders. The phone number for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University and has over two decades in the field of homeland security. His expertise includes human trafficking, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction, and intelligence gathering. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He has served as a consultant and speaker to the key stakeholders in law enforcement, defense forces, and criminal justice in Belize on the topics of human trafficking and drug trafficking.

In late 2020, Jarrod served as a consultant for the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime on human trafficking and organized crime in Central America. His contributions will be reflected on the worldwide Organized Crime Index that will be published in 2021. His research on drug trafficking was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report in 2019.

Most recently, Jarrod presented at the 2020 International Human Trafficking Conference where he presented his research on human trafficking in South America. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for consulting and speaking engagements.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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