The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic will go down in American history as one of loss, economic suffering, and social strife. Not only did hundreds of thousands of citizens die of COVID-19, but the sweeping mandates and restrictions governments implemented in the name of slowing the spread had lethal consequences in their own right—the full scope of which won’t be known for decades. Yet new data confirm that fatal drug overdoses hit new highs between March 2020 and 2021, further illuminating the fallout of life under lockdown.
An astounding 96,000 Americans died from drug overdoses over that one-year period, the latest figures released by the Centers for Disease Control reveal. That’s a 29.6 percent increase from the previous year.
“This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said earlier this year.
Reported drug overdose deaths in the US hit a new high of more than 96,000 in the 12-month period ending March 2021, according to data released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. https://t.co/MwQ46xBtp5— CNN (@CNN) October 13, 2021
The time period covered by the CDC’s new data includes the Spring of 2020, which was when many parts of the US endured their most sweeping and stringent government lockdown orders. Yes, correlation alone does not prove causation, but there’s no reason to believe that COVID-19 itself would cause such a huge spike in drug overdoses. It stands to reason that the isolation, mental health issues, unemployment, and more caused by the government’s responses to the pandemic, like lockdown orders, would be some of the main factors that drove this tragic increase.
The sad yet inescapable conclusion is that in their efforts to halt one public health crisis, the authorities fueled another. And drug overdoses are, unfortunately, not an outlier or exception. We can observe similar trends in domestic violence, mental health issues, and many other areas where the consequences of unprecedented interventions proved life-threatening in their own right. Taken together, it offers a painful reminder of why policymaking must be humble, and not fall victim to what Henry Hazlitt dubbed “the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”
In Economics in One Lesson, Hazlitt decries “the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups.”
This perfectly describes the trap that elected officials fell into when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. They thought they could drastically intervene in our lives using unprecedented restrictions and stop the virus’s spread. They didn’t succeed at that immediate goal. Yet the second-order consequences of their arrogance have proven deadly in their own right, and will continue to mount for decades to come.