As if COVID-19 did not cause enough problems, the pandemic has worsened America’s drug crisis, according to a new study by Louise Shelley, director and founder of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at the Schar School of Policy and Government.
Alarmingly, the consumption of fentanyl, a synthetic drug responsible for over 30,000 deaths in 2018 alone, was not slowed by the virus, according to Shelley’s research, but has increased during the pandemic.
The study, Fentanyl, COVID-19, and Public Health, was published in late July in the journal World Medical & Health Policy.
“I started this research because I had written in my last book, Dark Commerce, about the important transformation of illicit trade into cyberspace,” Shelley said. “I was particularly concerned about the fentanyl trade that was representative of this new online trade and was responsible for the deaths of increasing numbers of Americans each year. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving under the pandemic as my study points out—and the number of deaths continues to grow despite the disruption of supply chains for fentanyl.”
Fentanyl is routinely smuggled into the United States by Mexican drug traffickers. Those traffickers get the drug from various cartels, who make the drug themselves from chemicals manufactured in, and purchased from, Wuhan, China—the epicenter of the global novel coronavirus outbreak.
Despite severed supply lines of the chemicals needed to make fentanyl, the drug traffickers in the U.S. had stockpiled enough supplies to keep up with the demand of the drug, the study indicates.
The social isolation necessitated by the pandemic has only hurt drug addicts, who are unable to attend social support groups as a result of social distancing; rehabilitation programs have been altered to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19; and access to other medical and treatment options have been diminished.
“Among the tragic lessons of the pandemic is that existing strategies to address the illicit fentanyl trade are ineffective,” said Shelley. “In the post-pandemic era, we need to seriously rethink our approach to the online drug trade and how to protect our citizens better from its pernicious products.”