COVID’s Effect on Overdose Deaths in 2020
The NCHS said in a statement, “Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids [fentanyl>, psychostimulants [meth>, cocaine, and semi-synthetic opioids [pain medication> also increased in 2020." With every category of drugs seeing an increase in overdose deaths, professionals weighed in with their opinions on why this dramatic increase happened. Volkow pointed to COVID as the main influence, “These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America…This has been an incrediby uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths."
The prolonged isolation of COVID has had profound effects on mental health in general, with depression and anxiety rates skyrocketing in 2020 and 2021. Unfortunately, the effects of this continue to linger even as the vaccine offers a way out of quarantine. “As the pandemic recedes, we are still dealing with this overdose crisis," said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, former deputy commission as the USDA and current vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
The Problem of Prescription Opiates
Sharfstein also stated that he believes the FDA should do more to control the over-prescription of opioids. “There are definitely actions that the clinical community can take to reduce the risk of people becoming addicted to opioids. The FDA oversight of medical and clinical practice is an area the agency acknowledges it needs to improve. The question of whether a particular drug should have been approved is not fair to ask. But now the emphasis should be on the oversight of prescribing."
He went on to compare how the country has made progress on COVID treatments with a clear national strategy that included goals, good data, and evidence for critical projects. “That kind of approach is important here. The same kind of urgency and strategy that has been applied to COVID could produce results over time."
Professionals’ Emphasis on Treatment
Both Volkow and Sharfstein emphasized the need for treatment options for those suffering from drug dependency. “As we continue to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, we must prioritize making treatment options more widely available to people with substance use disorders."
There are proven treatment options for all types of drug dependencies. Medication-assisted treatment has well-documented results for treating opioid dependency long term, and all types of addictions have options in detox, residential, and outpatient treatment.