Brian Mann | Michigan Radio
WUOMFM

Brian Mann

Drug deaths spiked dramatically during a period that includes the first six months of the pandemic, up roughly 27% compared with the previous year, the acting head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said Thursday.

"We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase."

When the pandemic hit, visits to hospital emergency departments plummeted by more than 40%. People were scared of catching the coronavirus.

But Kristin Holland, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found patients experiencing drug-related crises needed help so desperately they kept coming.

"All overdoses and opioid overdoses...those were the only two [categories] for which we saw an increase," Holland said.

When Latoya Jenkins talks about her mom, she likes to focus on happy memories like the games she used to play with her kids.

"She used to buy two bottles of dish soap," Jenkins said. "One bottle was for the dishes. The other bottle was for rainy days. She would take us outside and we would make bubbles."

Jenkins, who lives in upstate New York, says her mom, Sonya Hughey, had a hard life, first using crack cocaine when she was a teenager.

Officials in New York say they're working to overcome resistance to the coronavirus vaccine in the Black and Latino communities, while also trying to make doses more readily available.

New state data released Friday showed many Black New Yorkers aren't taking the vaccine even when it's offered free of charge.

Only 39% of Black New Yorkers said they'd take the vaccine as soon as it was available to them, according to the state data. Hispanic New Yorkers were somewhat less hesitant, at 54%.

When Ashwani Sheoran showed up for early morning shifts at pharmacies in rural Michigan wearing his white Walmart smock, he often found customers waiting, desperate for bottles of pain pills.

"I see my patients, 15 to 20, already lined up to get prescriptions filled for morphine sulfate, oxycodone and other straight narcotics," he said.

This was in 2012 when the prescription opioid epidemic was exploding, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year.