The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened another crisis that has impacted Ohio for years: drug addiction. The pandemic’s isolation and stress are causing many to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Some are developing new addictions while others are relapsing back into substance use, resulting in a spike in drug overdose deaths.

The Millennium Report Shows Spike in Illicit Drug Use in Ohio During Pandemic

Millennium Health analysis of around 500,000 urine drug tests found that fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and meth use has increased significantly during the pandemic. Since March 13, 2020 (the date when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency), positive test rates increased throughout the United States:

  • 31.96% for fentanyl use
  • 19.96% for meth use
  • 10.06% for cocaine use
  • 12.53% for heroin use

In Ohio, positive test rates increased:

  • 29% for fentanyl use
  • 19% for meth use
  • 26% for cocaine use
  • 35% for heroin use

While Ohio’s fentanyl and meth positivity rates are similar to the national average, positive test rates for cocaine and heroin are significantly higher than average. As a result, the number of overdoses caused by opioids like heroin has risen sharply.

Drug Overdose Rates Rising in Ohio

Franklin County made national news when overdose deaths increased by around 75% in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Harm Prevention Ohio found that in the same time, statewide overdose deaths had risen by 29.5% compared to the previous year.

In many of these overdoses, the primary cause of death was fentanyl, present in 78.2% of overdose fatalities. Many people who use cocaine are overdosing on the fentanyl it’s cut with; fentanyl was found in 79% of cocaine overdose deaths at the time of the study. Methamphetamine is also being cut with fentanyl, causing additional overdoses. However, heroin overdose deaths have continued to drop, likely due to the wide availability of fentanyl.

Outlook for 2021

Unfortunately, up-to-date data about drug use and overdose rates can be difficult to find. The general consensus is that the pandemic is causing substance abuse to rise, but the true impact remains to be seen. However, experts believe that COVID-19 will be here to stay for a while, meaning it’s up to individual countries to take action to mitigate the pandemic’s effects. If the pandemic is not handled appropriately and people remain isolated, stressed and financially struggling, the trend of increased substance abuse could easily continue.

COVID’s Impact on Mental Health and Substance Use

The ongoing pandemic is negatively affecting people’s mental health. Lockdowns and social distancing measures have caused many Americans to feel isolated and stressed, while widespread unemployment has made millions struggle financially. Poor mental health and feelings of stress and uncertainty can lead to substance use to self-medicate, which can further damage mental health and cause addiction to develop.

Unemployment also plays a role in substance use. Compared to employed people, unemployed individuals are 87% more likely to report heavy alcohol use and 65% more likely to use illicit drugs. Many people in recovery are also struggling, as social distancing means that in-person support meetings cannot be held and other community services are restricted.

COVID’s Impact on Treatment Accessibility in Ohio

Though the pandemic has impacted many Americans’ mental health, one silver lining is that treatment accessibility has grown with the expansion of telehealth services. In many areas, people can now access lifesaving care from the comfort of their own homes via virtual doctor’s visits and online therapy. The Recovery Village Columbus offers its own telehealth service, which connects licensed therapists and counselors to clients online. Our multidisciplinary team of experts also provides evidence-based care at our state-of-the-art rehab facility in Columbus, Ohio.

Recovery is possible, even in a pandemic. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and recovery programs that can work well for your situation.

By – Megan Powell
Megan Powell has a duel Bachelor’s Degree from Capital University in Marketing and Leadership & Management. Megan hopes to use this experience to excel in her role as a liaison between The Recovery Village and the local community, helping patients to get the personalized help they need. Read more
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

Millennium Health. “Millennium Health’s Signals Report™ […]During the Pandemic.” Cision PR Newswire, July 8, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

DeMio, Terry. “Signs of illegal drug use surge in Ohio […]ge’ from pandemic.” The Columbus Dispatch, July 8, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

The Columbus Dispatch. “Editorial: The addiction epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere.” October 29, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Harm Reduction Ohio. “SPECIAL COVID REPORT: Ohio overdose deat[…] first half of 2020.” August 13, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Patterson, David. “Real-time data are essential for Covid-1[…]oid overdose crisis.” STAT News, May 20, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Scudellari, Megan. “How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond.” Nature, August 5, 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.