Through August, Buchanan County set the record for overdose deaths in a year with 19. The previous high was 15 in 2019.

A lot of attention has been on the pandemic, but until mid-September, there were more overdose deaths than COVID-19 deaths. However, cases quickly spiked and that is no longer the case.

But it just goes to show the opioid and general drug epidemic is still very prevalent, with many drugs in Buchanan County being methamphetamine and opioids, like fentanyl and heroin.

“The problem with fentanyl is that it’s cheap, so when the drug manufacturers are manufacturing, any drug, a lot of times if they’re selling heroin, it may not be much heroin at all, maybe 95% fentanyl and 5% heroin, because it’s cheaper,” said Adam Wineinger, the Buchanan County medical examiner. “If you’re buying that drug, you don’t know what the makeup is, and fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.”

The opioid epidemic was a problem long before COVID-19, but the pandemic may have an effect on the rise in overdose deaths.

“You have to remember that we were in this opioid and drug overdose epidemic before the pandemic and the numbers were rising,” Wineinger said. “So how much is it going to rise because it was going to rise in 2020? My personal feelings are that it’s made it worse. I think there’s been an increase in mental health issues, isolation, depression, which is probably driving some of the drug use abuse, overdose and deaths.”

Dr. Robert Corder of St. Kolbe-Puckett said isolation and loneliness of the pandemic probably had an effect, too.

“I’m sure the stress that the COVID pandemic is putting on people probably increases [overdose deaths] some,” Corder said. “If you’re on the verge of a severe depression or hopelessness, and now you can’t go anywhere and do anything, can’t see your friends.”

Dr. Corder says people struggling with an addiction should see a healthcare provider.

“The biggest issue is that the person themselves has to be devoted to doing that,” Corder said. “I mean if they’re not interested in actually stopping, it won’t work.”

While COVID-19 may have intensified the opioid epidemic, it has been an issue for years and won’t go away anytime soon.

“We had this opioid epidemic before the coronavirus pandemic and we’re gonna have this after the coronavirus goes away,” Wineinger said. “We just need to keep this in mind when we’re thinking about funding for treatment programs and mental health.”

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