Skip to content
The Editors

Covid-19 Is Also Raising the Death Toll From Opioids

Lawmakers must act now to end the crisis.

Still a problem.

Still a problem.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America

Since 1999, when the unconstrained prescription of painkillers was beginning to emerge as a public-health crisis, more than 535,000 lives have been lost to opioid overdoses. If that grim number seems familiar, it’s just a bit higher than Covid-19’s toll of 527,000 deaths so far. 

Covid-19 and the opioid crisis are linked in other ways, too. The pandemic has driven an alarming increase in overdose fatalities over the past year, as people struggling to recover from opioid dependence have been undone by isolation, job loss and the added difficulty of getting support and treatment with social-distancing rules in effect. All this at a time when lethal illicit fentanyl is increasingly turning up in street narcotics, including counterfeit hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. The 12 months ending last July saw 61,000 deaths, a surge from the previous year — even though the period includes only the first five months of the pandemic.