Yankton Press & Dakotan. June 14, 2021.

Editorial: As COVID Recedes, Opioids Back On Radar

As we (hopefully) emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are stepping out of that darkness to rediscover — or remember — some of the issues we faced prior to the onslaught of the coronavirus.

One of them is the impact of opioids on our society.

This remains a hot-button issue festering in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the age-adjusted rate of opioid deaths in their country jumped nearly 5% between 2018 and 2019, which is the last time frame in which full statistics are available. That rate has quadrupled since 1999. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, two out of every three drug overdose deaths in 2018 were connected to opioids.

Thus, a story in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan involving drug deaths in South Dakota could be viewed as a cold reminder of this pre-COVID reality.

A report from the group Well Being Trust showed that South Dakota drug-related deaths jumped an alarming 56% between 2018 and 2019, and that included a 29% rise in opioid deaths during that same period.

Bear in mind, however, that South Dakota and neighboring Nebraska have the nation’s lowest rates of drug-induced deaths per 100,000 people in the country — but the trend is clearly moving in a very tragic direction.

“Unfortunately, the 56% increase in drug-induced deaths was the largest in the nation,” Ben Miller, chief strategy officer for Well Being Trust, told the Press & Dakotan. “And so while South Dakota has smaller numbers, the percentage of increase based on those numbers was substantially higher than other states.”

This impact is felt in every corner of our society, and that includes the Yankton area. While no local numbers were immediately available, anecdotal evidence suggests the opioid crisis is not diminishing. Also, a report released in late 2019 showed that Yankton County was among 13 counties in the state at higher risk for HIV and Hepatitis C infections, which is tied to opioid deaths and related overdoses.

As stated earlier, the most recent statistics only run through 2019 and don’t even factor in the extraordinary stresses imposed by the pandemic. While we can’t draw definitive conclusions without seeing that data, it’s not unreasonable to assume that opioid abuse and its fallout may have flourished during those dark days.

“If you look at the available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we can intimate or suggest that the trends that we saw in 2019 are likely to be worse in 2020 because of COVID,” Miller said.

Thus, we must begin to focus again on this problem, which impacts all ages, especially an older population that is far more familiar with opioid use for various health issues.

In some ways, this fight is more difficult than battling COVID.

With the coronavirus, you could wear masks, social distance, wash your hands and, then, get a vaccination to battle this societal problem. But none of that applies to opioids’ grip on our society.

It’s a completely different, entirely manmade battlefield, but it’s a war that must be won.