Many prison systems in the United States are admirably releasing low risk prisoners to try to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 from ravaging the inmate populations, particularly in crowded prisons.
While a great, humane and life-saving idea, it does create an ancillary problem of many drug-users being released to the streets with lower or no tolerance. With social distancing and self-isolation, many of these users may find themselves using alone. The overdose death toll is likely to rise.
Prison release officials, harm reduction workers, including us in EMS, should help spread this message from the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine:
AVOID INJECTING ALONE: The illicit drug supply continues to be toxic. Be careful about risk of overdose. Try not to use alone, especially if you inject drugs like heroin, fentanyl, or drugs that might have come into contact with them. There are a couple of things you can do to try to stay safe: (1) You can reduce your risk of COVID-19 infection by staying at least six feet away from other people, coughing or sneezing into your arm, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. (2) If you have a phone, call someone, preferably nearby, and ask them to stay on the line while you are injecting so they can act or call 9-11 if you become unresponsive.
We are all in this together.