| Columbus Dispatch
There is reason to hope that a coronavirus vaccine will emerge and safer social behaviors will eventually deliver us from the lethal threat of COVID, maybe as soon as a year from now. The prognosis is less promising for the opioid epidemic, and some of the very actions encouraged to slow the spread of coronavirus infection increase the likelihood that overdose deaths will continue to rise.
In fact, in the first six months of 2020, overdose deaths increased by almost 75% in Franklin County from the same period in 2019 — up to 437 people from January through June this year compared with 252 in the first half of last year. Statewide, the month of May was the deadliest month for overdoses in 14 years, logging at least 520 deaths.
While those who are fighting addiction can benefit from group meetings and personal counseling, such avenues are less available as COVID keeps people from gathering in social settings and increases isolation, which can be a trigger for drug use. Pandemic-fueled losses of jobs, income and recreational outlets also induce some to turn to drugs to deal with fears and anxiety.
Concerted effort to address drug and alcohol addiction must continue, and recent developments offer promising progress.
For starters, at least one drugmaker indicates that it will take some responsibility, but it remains to be seen how that will play out. Purdue Pharma, which flooded the market with painkiller OxyContin, has agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud and kickback charges and to pay $8 billion in fines to help heal the damage its actions caused. The company has filed for bankruptcy, however, so it’s unclear how much of that fine it might actually pay.
More positive are the actions that local government officials and some individuals are taking in their own battles against the scourge of drug addiction.
The Dispatch salutes Torki Barayan, for example. The fourth-year Ohio State University pharmacy student is committed to using his future practice to fight addiction and doubles down as a rising rapper whose music carries a powerful anti-addiction message as well.
In September under the pseudonym King Rx, Barayan, 26, released “War on Drugs,” a single from an upcoming album composed of anthems against the opioid epidemic. The single came out on what would have been the 23rd birthday of his younger brother, Abdul, who died two years earlier from a laced heroin overdose.
Also promising is the new “Recover For Life” campaign launched Oct. 21 by Franklin County Public Health with a three-year grant of $11.7 million from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight drug and alcohol addiction. The campaign aims to shed stigmas around addiction, such as with a Franklinton mural intended as a support wall those who are fighting addiction can sign to begin their recovery.
The opioid epidemic was here before coronavirus disrupted our way of life. With concentrated effort across society, we can chase away COVID-19 and we also must drive down addiction.