New Study Shows Link Between Opioid Overdoses and COVID-19 Stimulus Checks

A new study by researchers in Ohio found that the record number of opioid-related deaths in the state coincided with the delivery of COVID-19 stimulus checks.

The study, conducted by the Ohio Attorney General's Center for the Future of Forensic Science, used data from the Ohio Department of Health to determine that the stark increase in deaths began after the first stimulus checks were delivered.

Ohio experienced more opioid-related deaths in the second quarter of 2020 than the state has seen since 2010, according to a news release from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100,000 Americans died due to an opioid overdose from April 2020 to April 2021, a 28 percent increase from the previous year. This was the highest recorded amount of opioid-related deaths since 1999 when the CDC began tracking data about the opioid epidemic.

Data also showed an increase in overdose deaths related to fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

"The link between pandemic relief money and opioid overdose deaths is now evident," Yost said in the news release. "The intent was to help Americans navigate this deadly pandemic but it also fueled a tidal wave of overdoses."

Researchers discovered that the rate of opioid-related deaths was significantly higher after the first 16 weeks of 2020. Deeper analysis found that more than 203 deaths occurred weekly between weeks 17-32 of 2020. The first stimulus check started being delivered in April 2020.

The researchers wrote that the start of the global pandemic along with the opioid epidemic created a "perfect storm" for individuals with opioid use disorder and those more susceptible to the stressors caused by COVID-19.

Some stressors included social isolation, loss of housing or income, and the reduced availability of harm-reduction strategies and medications. Researchers discovered that low-income, middle-aged white men were the socioeconomic group most susceptible to a drug overdose.

"The link between the timing of assistance payments and drug overdose deaths reflects a phenomenon known as the 'check effect,'" the authors wrote. "The check effect has been associated with higher numbers of drug overdose deaths, hospital admissions and 911 calls in the days and weeks associated with income assistance payments."

The "check effect" is a term over ten years old referring to individuals using disability payments or government subsidies to purchase illegal drugs or alcohol.

"Throwing money at a problem isn't always the best solution," Yost wrote. "Let the data be the guide to learn from the past. Addiction is a sickness you can't cure with just cash."

Narcotic drugs (opioids) stock photo
A new study by researchers in Ohio found that the record number of opioid-related deaths in the state coincided with the delivery of COVID-19 stimulus checks. Above, stock image of white tablets, prescription vials with a fake label for oxycontin, syringe with needle and white powder representing opioid crisis affecting America. Getty Images