June 18, 2021 – Before the COVID-19 pandemic was the drug epidemic. Its relentless toll added a record 90,722 overdose deaths in the U.S. for the year through November 2020, a grim number obscured by coronavirus casualties that recently topped 600,000, according to federal data released Wednesday.

As the virus transfixed the nation, the drug crisis spread to largely untouched parts of the country — exacerbated by the recession and millions of job losses. Not only stores and restaurants shuttered: Counseling services moved online, inpatient clinics closed and mobile clinics pulled back. Without support, many Americans relapsed and some turned to drugs for the first time.

Before the pandemic, U.S. unemployment hit a half-century low of 3.5%; today, the country is still missing almost 8 million people on payrolls. President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking full employment, but that goal will be daunting as businesses confront a workforce more addicted than ever.

Ronald Armstrong, a 57-year-old recovered heroin user and peer counselor, is noticing new faces when dropping off clean needles around Washington. Along Good Hope Road and in downtown encampments are people who are younger, and many who’ve never bought drugs before.  Opioids are behind about three-fourths of the overdoses, according to Wednesday’s data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Washington was among the deadliest regions, seeing a 50% surge in deaths. Some of the impact is visible, such as the growing clusters of tents downtown where many overdoses occur, a sight so common that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell mentioned them several times this year.



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