Addiction in Philadelphia, New York, and West Palm Beach (COVID-19 Era)

Research indicates that the cities of Philadelphia, New York, and West Palm Beach all tend to exhibit higher rates of substance abuse addictions than similar cities throughout the United States, with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin being among the most commonly abused substances. The combination of stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, along with opioids such as heroin, is reportedly increasingly common and has been associated with a rise in overdose-related deaths in each of the three examined cities. Though no official data yet exist to describe the precise impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on addiction rates in Philadelphia, New York, or West Palm Beach, a variety of reports suggest that the resulting stress, social isolation, scarcity of treatment options, and prescription supply chain disruptions have contributed to increased danger for relapse among those struggling with substance abuse.

Tobacco and Cocaine Addiction Rates in Philadelphia

  • Between 2012 and 2014, 3% of Philadelphia residents over the age of 12 reported the abuse of cocaine in the past year.
  • By 2016, 11.2% percent of addicts seeking treatment in Philadelphia were doing so for cocaine and crack abuse. That year, cocaine overdoses led to the deaths of 280 Philadelphians.
  • Cocaine is reportedly particularly easy to access in Philadelphia, with cocaine being among the most commonly-seized drugs between 2016 and 2018. In early 2018, cocaine became the “dominant drug” in Philadelphia, accounting for 31% of all drug seizures.
  • Reports from 2019 indicate a continued rise in cocaine abuse among Philadelphians, with increasing numbers of people described as purposely or inadvertently combining the stimulant with opioids to create an altered or “come down” effect. Data reveal that 48% of 2019 drug deaths were caused by combinations of this kind, more than any other individual drug type.
  • Among Philadelphia residents, as of 2019, cocaine overdose deaths were reported more commonly among African American and Hispanic populations. Additional data from 2018 suggest that the majority of Philadelphia residents with cocaine addictions were 45 years old or older.
  • Statistics dating back to 2008 show Philadelphia as consistently having one of the highest adult smoking rates in the US. That year, 27.3% of Philadelphia adults were identified as tobacco users.
  • In 2013, 25.2% of adult Philadelphians reported a smoking addiction, along with 7.3% of the city’s high school students. The rate of smokers declined in 2014 to 22.4% and remained steady through 2015, still more than the overall rate of 16.8% in the US.
  • As of 2017, 18.8% of adult residents in Philadelphia reportedly smoked tobacco products, as compared to a national rate of 17.1%.

Impact of COVID-19 on Addiction Rates in Philadelphia

  • A May 2020 report from health and wellness experts asserted predictions of increased “deaths of despair“, such as those caused by addiction or depression, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine measures. One moderate estimate from the report projected an additional 11.5 fatalities of this nature per 100,000 Philadelphia residents over the next 10 years.
  • The report points out that one of the most important safety measures for those suffering from addiction is “avoiding isolation“, which is made particularly difficult by quarantine. Experts fear that Philadelphia residents fighting addictions may experience relapse or engage in “riskier drug use” due to social isolation.
  • Interviews with healthcare workers in Philadelphia have indicated that drug users seeking treatment may find it impossible to be admitted to recovery clinics.
  • Many treatment facilities in Philadelphia reportedly require drug users to test negative for COVID-19 before allowing them to be admitted, but Philadelphia hospitals will not perform COVID-19 tests unless patients show symptoms, leading to a catch-22 situation for those suffering from addiction.
  • In addition to difficulties with safe drug use and seeking treatment, Philadelphia police announced their intention to halt arrests for low-level crimes, including drug-related infractions, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The move was reportedly made in an attempt to decrease social contact and avoid population increases in Philadelphia jails, but research indicates that local drug dealers may have increased their activity as a result, suggesting a progressively difficult environment for residents with addictions.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rates in New York

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted between 2012 and 2014, among New York City residents aged 12 and over, 25% reported binge alcohol drinking, 4% reported the use of illicit drugs other than cannabis, 4% reported the abuse of prescription drugs, and 3% reported using cocaine.
  • From 2012 to 2013, 2.8% of New York City (NYC) residents were reported as having a dependence on illicit drugs, with cocaine, heroin, and cannabis predominating.
  • Data from 2013 and 2014 suggest that 8% of NYC adults over the age of 20 abused prescription opioid drugs, while 1.9% of that same group abused heroin. Deaths from heroin overdose outpaced the murder rate in NYC during this time period.
  • 2016 statistics from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) indicate that, statewide, approximately 12% of residents 11 years old or older suffer from “addiction or abuse disorders”, with the effects being particularly concentrated in New York City.
  • Opioid addiction is a particular problem among residents of New York City, with 38% of statewide enrollments in treatment centers cited as being due to opioid abuse. In NYC, opioid prescriptions spiked by 31% between 2008 and 2011.
  • In 2015, 48% of NYC residents who enrolled in OASAS treatment programs reportedly abused heroin, eight times as many as those who reported abusing cocaine.
  • Between 2009 and 2013, 1,100,000 NYC residents over the age of 11, or approximately 6.7% of the population, reported “alcohol use or dependence”. Over 900,000 residents over the age of 20 admitted to engaging in “heavy drinking” within the past 30 days.
  • More than 1,700 New York City residents reportedly die each year from causes related to alcohol abuse.
  • Among NYC residents admitted to alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers in 2014, 73.3% were reportedly male and 26.7% were female.

Impact of COVID-19 on Addiction Rates in New York

  • In New York City, some treatment clinics are now delivering home supplies of methadone by courier to residents with addictions in order to decrease COVID-19 exposure throughout the city.
  • NYC health officials have publicly recognized the stressful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on those who drink alcohol or use drugs, noting that substance abuse may increase among New Yorkers coping with losses or sheer boredom.
  • The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released safety guidelines specifically for drug and alcohol use during quarantine.
  • Dr. Tim Brennan, a treatment center director in NYC, cited COVID-19 as a potentially huge “relapse trigger” among city residents, with the ban on social gatherings and ensuing isolation posing a particular challenge for those struggling with addiction.
  • Jimmy Hamm, owner of a sober living home in the city also notes that the “excessive downtime” for residents struggling with addiction is posing additional challenges. Mr. Hamm points out that although virtual meetings are offered for NYC residents in treatment, they tend to be unpopular, with many drug addiction patients “tuning out” during these online gatherings.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rates in West Palm Beach

  • In 2014, out of 1,339,221 West Palm Beach residents, 1,926 sought treatment for alcohol addiction, 295 sought treatment for cocaine addiction, 571 for heroin addiction, and 1,225 for prescription opioid abuse.
  • Of those admitted for addiction treatment in West Palm Beach, 57% were female and 56% were over the age of 35.
  • Cocaine-related deaths rose by 53% in West Palm Beach between 2012 and 2014, as compared to an increase of 10% throughout the state of Florida.
  • 21.5% of West Palm Beach treatment center admissions in 2014 were for non-heroin opiates, with males accounting for 55% of prescription opioid treatment admissions. Heroin abuse accounted for another 10% of admissions, while alcohol-related treatments ranked first at 34%.
  • Among those admitted for prescription opioid treatment programs in West Palm Beach, 22% were between 18 and 25 years old, 49% were between the ages of 26 and 34, and 28% were over the age of 35.
  • 2015 reports suggest that 33,767 residents of West Palm Beach, or 2.5% of the population, identified as current users of illicit drugs other than cannabis. 59,321 individuals, or 4.4% of residents, admitted to using cannabis within the past 30 days of being surveyed.
  • As of 2020, nearly 34,000 West Palm Beach residents out of over 1,000,000 had identified as “current illicit drug abusers“.
  • Further reports from 2020 suggest that cocaine is currently the predominant drug threat in West Palm Beach, with local cocaine overdose deaths ranking third in the state.
  • Alcohol also represents a substantial problem for West Palm Beach residents, with an estimated 13% of residents identified as binge drinkers. The community has experience increase in crime and homelessness due to alcohol abuse, as well as a 58% increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths between 2014 and 2015.

Impact of COVID-19 on Addiction Rates in West Palm Beach

  • Recent reports referring to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have indicated that alcohol sales have increased by over 200% in West Palm Beach over the past several months.
  • Other reports have suggested a 25% increase in admissions to addiction treatment centers in West Palm Beach and surrounding areas since the start of the pandemic, with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin representing the majority of addictions.
  • West Palm Beach treatment centers are reporting COVID-19-related reductions in services for addicts seeking treatment, with a lack of continued care programs posing a particular concern for those struggling to stay sober.
  • Experts also note that West Palm Beach residents coping with the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, or just general lack of contact and support due to COVID-19 control measures may experienced increased susceptibility for relapse. The pandemic-related disruption of prescription drug supplies has also posed a particular challenge among addicts with co-occuring mood disorders, the instability of which may lead to relapse.
  • While no official data exists reporting the specific rates of increase among substance abusers due to COVID-19, West Palm Beach fire and rescue departments have reportedly experienced a surge of overdose-related calls since the beginning of the pandemic.

Research Strategy

Despite the fact that plenty of data were located referencing historic rates of addiction in Philadelphia, New York City, and West Palm Beach, exhaustive research revealed little information about how those same rates have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine measures. Research suggests that the currently overwhelmed nature of US healthcare providers, along with the increased number of overall deaths which may or may not be COVID-19-related, has made it difficult to assess with any accuracy the precise effects of the pandemic on substance addiction rates.
By conducting thorough press scans for available local news items relating to the impact of COVID-19 on addiction rates in each city, some useful information was obtained about the smaller-scale effects of the pandemic. Broader searches of national and international news revealed some pertinent trends, but most were generalized to the entire US or global populations.

Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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