The COVID-19 Pandemic Directly Affects the Opioid Epidemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic Directly Affects the Opioid Epidemic

More than 87,000 Americans died from September 2019 through September 2020 because of drug overdoses. This is the highest number of deaths for a one-year span since 1990 when the epidemic started. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, the opioid crisis has been on the backburner, but the two pandemics could be more linked than previously believed, making it necessary to focus on them equally. Overdose deaths were at their highest during April and May. These months were towards the start of the pandemic when there was a lot of fear and stress as well as many job losses and very strict lockdown measures. Uncertainty was also a large problem with people not knowing if life was ever going back to normal. Another large problem was treatment programs closing, preventing people from getting lifesaving care like clean syringes and naloxone.

There was a 29 percent increase in overdose deaths this year compared to the previous year. Fentanyl and synthetic opioids were the main causes of the fatal overdoses, but methamphetamine was also a cause. Opioids primarily affected white Americans early on, but they are now disproportionately affecting black Americans, with fentanyl mortality being the highest in this population. The risk of dying from methamphetamine is also disproportionate in Native Americans and Alaskan Natives since these groups are 12 times more likely to overdose from the substance. Opioids can also be found in other drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine because dealers are lacing the drugs to make a profit, hurting people not tolerant to low levels of fentanyl.

Any progress with the opioid epidemic is being wiped out because of COVID-19. Billion-dollar grants were given to states to allow more drug addicts to get medications including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone before COVID-19 started. All three are able to suppress cravings and the symptoms of withdrawal. The lifesaving opioid reversal drug naloxone was also distributed because of the grants. After the pandemic started though, more people started using drugs more often, especially while alone because of social distancing. They were also using cut drugs more often, which is not good because cut drugs can be more deadly.

There isn’t a permanent drug czar yet, but different measures to solve the epidemic were embraced by the new president. He wants to expand access to medication treatment, but he also wants to address systemic inequalities with prevention, treatment, and recovery. He said he wants to remove barriers to prescribing buprenorphine, but his actions contradict this. Soon after his inauguration he reversed the previous administration’s choice to make it easier to prescribe the medication.

Health organizations want the Biden administration to eliminate the rule that makes doctors go through a day of training to prescribe buprenorphine. They also want certain rules that were relaxed because of COVID-19 to stay that way so patients don’t have to physically go to clinics or doctor’s offices to get medication. Many syringe programs were closed temporarily, but after they opened many services were cut. This is leading to H.I.V. cases increasing where many people use injection drugs.

The American Rescue Plan from Biden has $1.5 billion to help prevent and treat substance use disorders and $30 million to fund local services that help people with addiction. Federal funding can also now buy rapid fentanyl test strips, allowing people to detect if drugs have fentanyl in them.

If you or someone you know was affected by the opioid epidemic, contact us today by calling 412-471-3980 or by filling out our contact form to see if we can get you the compensation you deserve.

Abby Goodnough, “Overdose Deaths Have Surged During the Pandemic, C.D.C. Data Shows” The New York Times (April 14, 2021). [Link]

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