U.S. Opioid Overdose Deaths Have Soared During Covid-19 Pandemic; More than 87K Lives Lost

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AP

Edited by: TJVNews.com

There were more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States from October 2019 to September 2020, the highest of any one-year period since the nation’s opioid crisis began in the 1990s, preliminary government data shows.

The death toll was 29 percent higher than in the previous 12-month period and the increase was largely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, with stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine also playing a role, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Whites in rural and suburban areas accounted for many of the deaths in the early years of the U.S. opioid epidemic, but the latest data show Blacks being affected disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at an addiction conference last week, The New York Times reported. “And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.” Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

Overdose deaths fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades, but started to climb again the months before the COVID-19 pandemic and had the highest spike in April and May 2020. In the early months of the pandemic, many addiction treatment centers shut down, at least temporarily, and services were reduced at many drop-in centers that offer support, clean syringes, and the overdose-reversal medication naloxone. In many cases, those services have not been fully restored. Also, the drug overdose crisis has received less attention and resources as the country struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, The Times said.

Fox News reported that experts have said that the devastation is an indictment of the public health infrastructure, which failed to fight the dueling crises of COVID-19 and addiction.

Brendan Saloner, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies access to addiction treatment, told Fox News that, “the data points corroborate something I believe, which is that people who were already using drugs started using in ways that were higher risk — especially using alone and from a less reliable supply,”

Sara Glick, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, said, “with health departments spending so much on COVID, some programs have really had to cut their budgets. That can mean seeing fewer participants, or pausing their H.I.V. and hepatitis C testing,” as was reported by Fox News.

$1.5 billion for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse as well as $30 million in funding for local services that benefit addicts, including syringe exchange programs will be included in the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the Fox News report.

Last month, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the new surgeon general said he would make the relapsing opioid overdose crisis his top priority, according to the Fox News report.

Speaking to senators during his confirmation hearing about his parents during his youth in Miami, Dr. Murthy said: “As a child, I watched them make house calls in the middle of the night and wake up early to visit patients in the hospital before heading to their office. I have tried to live by the lessons they embodied: that we have an obligation to help each other whenever we can, to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, and to give back to this country that made their lives, and my life, and the lives of my children possible.”

He added that, “”We cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” (Sources; HealthDay News, the New York Times, Fox News)