The pandemic has made 2020 the nation’s deadliest year ever for drug overdoses with a record 81,000 people overdosing during the lockdown.
“I became addicted to opioids and cocaine and eventually started using fentanyl,” said a Santa Clarita, California man who asked to be identified only as Joe.
Joe is one of the thousands of Americans who fell deep into drug addiction during the pandemic. He had already been hooked on painkillers following an injury, but during the lockdown, he started using the synthetic, cheaper opioid - fentanyl - which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“Toward the end of my addiction I was just smoking it straight,” he said.
In February, Joe overdosed, and he had to be brought back to life by paramedics using Naloxone, also known as Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioids.
“You put it up one nostril and pump it, and it’s super simple to use,” said Captain Justin Diez, with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.
Diez’s deputies are now routinely using Narcan when they respond to calls.
“For people who were already struggling before, the pandemic just amplified what we’ve seen,” said Austin Dave, a filmmaker documenting substance abuse during the pandemic.
The CDC says fentanyl-related deaths in the U.S. were up 27% over the past year.
“As people are home they’re feeling distressed, [they deal with] difficult thoughts and emotions, and [there are] very limited ways of being able to distract or cope with it,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Christina Huang.
Joe is now in recovery after his overdose, and he has some advice for others taking risks with prescription pills and fentanyl.
"You’re playing Russian roulette every time you take it. If you’re not on it, I suggest you don’t mess around with pills or any drug period."
If you need help with addiction or mental health issues you can call 1-877-854-7771, where you can be referred to free services in your area.