Drug-related deaths have increased in 2020 in North America, and particularly in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic hasnegatively affected the ability of the authorities and the health system to provide adequate treatment to drug addicts, and excessive use of confinement policies have made things worse.
At the same time, the trafficking and consumption of “fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine” were “on the rise” in the region, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the UN body in charge of ensuring compliance with the anti-drug treaties, reported on Thursday.
Its annual report speaks of “crisis” in summarizing the situation in North America, marked by the havoc being wreaked by opioid abuse.
“Overdoses and deaths continue to fuel a drug crisis in the region (…) The opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, with the increased toxicity of illicitly manufactured drugs,” the Board highlights.
Pandemic as a trigger
The coronavirus pandemic has made matters even worse, affecting the supply of illicit substances, “their quality, their degree of contamination, their potency and their cost.”
In addition, “it has exacerbated the vulnerability of drug users to negative health effects,” making access to medication for opioid use disorders more difficult, UN experts say.
People in prisons, women and adolescents were among the groups “disproportionately affected by drug use and health problems”.
The report also warns that drug abuse is a problem that is increasingly being detected in the elderly: “In the United States, people over 65 years of age represent just over 10% of the total population. However, they account for 30% of medical prescriptions,” he points out.
“The prevalence of consumption of analgesics, tranquilizers, benzodiazepines and sedatives in the last year was higher in this age group than in the population as a whole,” he adds.
The legal marijuana market
On the other hand, he recalls that “cannabis legalization measures and decriminalization initiatives continued to evolve and shape the regional cannabis market.”
New steps in that direction emerged from the ballot box in the past presidential election on November 3, 2020, where several liberalization measures were also voted on.
As a result, the federal states of Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota legalized the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes, while Mississippi and South Dakota gave the green light to cannabis for medical purposes.
With these changes, “there are now 34 (federal) states in which the use of cannabis for medical purposes is permitted and 11 states, in addition to Washington D.C., in which the possession and use of cannabis for non-medical purposes has been legalized,” summarizes the INCB.
Confinements increase depression, drug overdoses and suicides
Forced confinement policies that have been implemented by mostly Democratic administrations at the regional level have been partly responsible for the increase in depression, drug overdoses and suicides.
FEE has provided an analysis of the situation citing various studies that indicate “according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Enforcement Program, suspected overdoses in March were up 18% over the previous year nationally. In April, that number rose to 29%. In May, the increase was 42%, the latter in 2020.”
And in turn, “a recent study found that the COVID-19 crisis could increase suicides by 20 to 30 % in 2020. That’s about 20 more suicides per day, or about 7,000 per year.”