Many policies and guidelines are in place to contend with Covid-19’s rapid invasion. However, it seems these measures are the largest contributing factor behind the spike in drug overdoses.â€Żâ€Ż
As the COVID-19 pandemic spans our nation, an epidemic is sweeping the U.S. in its wake. Drug overdose deaths have been drastically on the rise.
COVID-19 and Increases in Overdose Deathsâ€Ż
Theâ€ŻOverdose Detection Mapping Application Program is a federal initiative to collect quantitative data from hospitals and police agencies across the U.S. The program detected a 191 percent spike in overdose cases from January-April 2020 compared to January-April 2019. The spike in drug overdoses began at the onset of COVID-19 in the United States and has continued to grow exponentially. ODMAP is analyzing the overdose data as a national health emergency within the COVID-19 pandemic.
As people struggle with substance use disorders of all kinds, one universal truth has always helped them while in recovery â€” â€śaddiction is a disease of isolation.â€ť Further complicating during this time of quarantines is the closure of AA meetings and support groups alike. At the same time, the cancellation of large gatherings leaves people who struggle with addiction even more isolated and vulnerable.â€Ż
An article by Peter Grinspoon inâ€ŻHarvard Medical Schoolâ€™s Health Care Blogâ€Żlooks at other factors of the COVID-19 pandemic that are affecting people who overdose.â€Żâ€Ż
â€śAs a consequence, police have been finding people dead in their apartments. When people do call 911, the health care system is overloaded, and first responders may arrive more slowly. We know that starting addiction treatment in the ED can help prevent relapse, but right now emergency room doctors are absolutely overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases and might not have the time or resources available to start addiction medications following an overdose.â€ťâ€Żâ€Ż
The nationâ€™s unstable economy is only exacerbating the overdose epidemic. During the initial phases of the lockdown,â€Żâ€ŻU.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar wroteâ€Żabout how unemployment affects people with substance use disorder.â€Ż
â€śEstimates suggest that each one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate translates into a 1 percent increase in suicide deaths and a more than 3 percent increase in opioid deaths, which means this virus-induced recession will likely cause tens of thousands of excess deaths.â€ťâ€Żâ€Ż
Solutions toâ€Żthe Crisisâ€Ż
â€Ż Even in the face of the challenges due to COVID-19 and the rise in overdose cases, there have been solutions. After social distancing and lockdown procedures were in effect, companies, schools, and restaurants learned how to adapt to the changes.
Thanks to advanced technology, people have taken most activities of daily life online and inside. The same capabilities are becoming available for those at higher risk of drug overdose or who struggle with addiction. Zoom and teleconference meetings between therapists and patients, as well as virtual AA meetings, are beginning to emerge as solutions. The DEA has also passed regulatory guidelines allowing practitioners to prescribe medication following phone consultations with substance use disorder patients.
The American Medical Associationâ€Żnotesâ€Żthe new rules are essentialâ€Żin everyâ€Żstate.
â€śGovernors must adopt the new SAMHSA and DEA rules and guidance in-full for the duration of the national emergency â€” this includes flexibility for evaluation and prescribing requirements using telemedicine â€¦â€ťâ€Żâ€Ż
These rules are significant steps to help victims of drug abuse in social isolation. Now, doctors remain optimistic theyâ€™ll be able to provide more treatment than before the pandemic began with these solutions in place.
Looking to the Futureâ€Żâ€Ż
Unfortunately, the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a spike in drug overdoses to the point of a national health emergency.â€Ż Lockdown guidelines were implemented to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Those who struggle with substance abuse disorder are put at greater risk as a result of the isolation and stress a nationwide lockdown brings on.â€Żâ€ŻAs the country begins to reopen, a surge in new COVID-19 cases is happening. Hospitals are becoming overloaded again, resulting in a higher mortality rate in overdose cases.
However, there is always room for improvement. As recovery services, counselors, practitioners, and therapists adapt to the new standards of social distancing and quarantine, patients will now begin to have access to treatment in their own homes. â€Ż