Last week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released a study called “COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments and Opioid Deaths.” Commissioned by Yost’s office, the study has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Drug Policy and will be published in April. Notably, Yost has previously sued opioid distributors for their role in the opioid epidemic.
“The link between pandemic relief money and opioid overdose deaths is now evident,” Yost said in a statement. Yost added that while stimulus checks were meant “to help Americans navigate this deadly pandemic,” they “also fueled a tidal wave of overdoses.” A report from Ideastram Public Media stated that Yost, a Republican, was “not trying to cast blame on the Trump administration, which sent out those checks.”
Yost’s release of the study, needless to say, has been controversial. According to the Dayton Daily News, activists have said that there may have been other reasons for the spike in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, stress and disruption in the opening months of the pandemic may have been key factors.
“I don’t really think you can blame this phenomenon on stimulus checks when you have so many other intersecting crises that are going on due to COVID,” Sydney Silverstein, an assistant professor at Wright State University and expert on addiction, told the Dayton Daily News. "You have people who are socially isolated, people who lost jobs. A lot of people I talked to were released early from transitional programs or drug treatment programs because they couldn’t have overcrowding due to COVID.”
While another expert quoted in the same story said that she did know someone who died of an overdose after receiving a stimulus check, she stopped short of calling that the main reason for the overdose spike in 2020.
Another elected official in Ohio, Sen. Teresa Fedor, described Yost’s suggestion as “both dangerous and troubling,” noting that the study he was citing found “only a correlation, at most” between the timing of the stimulus check and the spike in overdose deaths. “Our responsibility as elected officials is to ensure there is truth behind the words we say. After reviewing the research, I believe that the Attorney General’s claims are false,” Senator Fedor added. “Insinuating that the stimulus checks were largely used to purchase opioids does nothing more than shame those experiencing poverty—especially when we know these payments helped support working people.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.