Marcel Gemme: COVID a double-edged sword for addiction

Marcel Gemme

The US drug epidemic is at its worst point ever, largely thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The two public health crises collided in early 2020, worsening the growing problem of drug overdoses and addiction in virtually every state and culminating in more than 100,000 overdose deaths for the first time in American history.

But what experts have been trying to determine since then is why things became so much worse so quickly. And one surprising reason, which includes social media apps and fake pills, just might be the biggest factor of all.

After the coronavirus arrived and social distancing measures began to conflict with vital aspects of the treatment industry, a monumental shift occurred. For the first time ever, patients were treated remotely via telemedicine platforms, and insurers paid the bill. What other options were there?

Technology has allowed us to connect even when we can’t be close. But that same technology that’s making such an impact in the recovery community is a double-edged sword. It’s a way for everyone to stay connected remotely, including people who aren’t out to help.

Drug dealers turned to the internet and social media apps such as Snapchat to connect with their customers during the pandemic. Much like burner phones or pagers were used by dealers during their time, social media apps give them an advantage over law enforcement and a shortcut through the isolation impacting everyone. And with features like encryption and disappearing messages, their popularity and use for selling drugs keeps growing.

When we add this technology to the growing distribution of fentanyl, we have a serious problem. Fentanyl is an opioid so powerful that a few grains can kill someone. According to, the use of fentanyl, particularly in fake pills, is causing the spike in drug overdoses that began in 2020 and is continuing today. And dealers are using social media apps to sell the fentanyl-laced pills to the group of people who use social media the most: teens and young adults.

Experts are reporting that social media is almost exclusively how teens and young adults are obtaining illicit pills now and that about 90% of these pills contain fentanyl. In many cases, a single pill contains a dose large enough to kill several people.

Fentanyl is pressed into fake pills that are often marketed as other less powerful but more expensive opioids, such as oxycodone. But because it’s so difficult to accurately measure such a powerful drug without specialized equipment, too much can easily end up in the pills. Dealers often have little regard for the safety of the user.

Prevention and education are the only ways to start effectively curbing this new trend. There may not be another chance if we don’t stop a fentanyl overdose before it happens. And while the idea of drug prevention and education may seem like ineffective relics of the past, perhaps they’re what’s truly missing today.