U.S. drug overdose deaths on rise amid COVID-19 threat

Drug overdose killed nearly 72,000 Americans in 2019as per preliminary data released in July 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data indicated a 5 percent increase over the number of overdose deaths recorded in 2018, the year when the number had dropped for the first time in 25 years.Unfortunately, the current situation due to the pandemic has not only fueled these numbers but has also negated the milestones reached in addiction treatment so far.

Seeing the trend, 2020 appears to be holding more unpleasant surprises.According to the mortality data collected by The New York Times from local and state governments, drug-relatedmortality (covering 40 percent of the U.S. population) has so far witnessed a 13 percent surge over the last year (2019).If the situation doesnot improve, the present year is likely to witnessthe highest number of annual drug deaths since 2016, when a new deadly synthetic opioid called fentanyl debuted in the country’s illicit drug market.

Fentanyl factor

Before making inroads into the U.S., fentanyl was mostly confined to New England, and someareas of the East, where it was sold as an adulterant for powdered white heroin. However, in recent years it was observed that potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl had becomethe leading causeof overdose deaths in different parts of America including Arizona, California, and other Western states.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has found that illicit drug suppliers are sellingpills containing fentanyl in the name of oxycodone or other opioid painkillers, leading to an unabated increase in overdose and overdose deaths. This phenomenon was especially observedin states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, where the rate of overdose deaths hasrebounded in 2019 after seeing a decline in2018. Incidentally, these states are considered as major markets of fentanyl-based counterfeit pills sold as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers. 

Meth threat

Meth made its way into the U.S. illicit drug market mostly in the 1990s and in the early 2000s, when drug suppliers used to cook it in small home labs using pseudoephedrine, the main constituent in many drugstore cold medicines. However,today’s meth, which is mainly imported from Mexico, isthe most potent version of all. Drug peddlers are mixing itwith fentanyl(sometimes without the knowledge of the user) to counteract it’s depressant effects.What’s dangerous about meth is that unlike opioids, effects of a meth overdose are irreversible.

COVID-19 pandemic: Last nail in the coffin

Provisional mortality data collected by The Timeshas highlighted a growing incidence of drug-related deaths in America well into 2020. New Jersey has seen a 17 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths in the first half of 2020 as compared to 2019. In Colorado, overdose-related death toll grew by 30 percent through March.

Similar trends in overdose deaths were reported in other counties, with an increase of 35 percent, 32 percent, and 20 percent in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Harris County, respectively. The researchers suspect a possible association with the COVID-19 virus and spike in overdose casualties.

Whenthe pandemic hitU.S., the federal government relaxed some ofthe rules related toprescribing buprenorphine and methadone, two effective treatment options for opioid use disorder (OUD). Patients could now fill four weeks ofmethadone from clinics at once rather than making daily visits. Moreover, they didnotrequire a new prescription for buprenorphine.While the move was welcomed across the country initially, it soon started to do more harm than good as the lockdown and social isolation increased the problems of those struggling with addiction.

“Social isolation has always been a huge component of drug overdose risk. So much of what we’ve beentrying to do has been completely unraveled,” saysTraci Green, epidemiologist, Brown University.

The isolation resulting from social isolation can prove to be dangerous in many ways. For one, it is always riskyto use drugs alone than along with others, as there is no one around if one overdoses and needs a revival attempt or rescue.

Additionally, the absence of in-person treatment procedures in these times leaves an individual battling mental health issues and addiction without any emotional support. The experience of human contact during treatment interventions like visits to doctors or nurses, stays at residential treatment centers and frequent group counseling sessions, is crucial for people battling mental health problems associated with drug abuse. Further, with the termination of many residential programs, critical patients have beenstripped off of their safety net and are left helpless.

People struggling with drug addiction may also not be able to maintain their normal medicationschedules during the pandemic, either because of a possible disruption in their local supply ordue to loss of income.The pandemic also disrupted the supply of naloxone, the overdose reversing medication, raising the possibility of overdose deaths.

“My office had invested substantially in reducing overdose deaths by increasing access to medication-assisted therapies. However, the pandemic has disrupted the work we have done increasing the probability of overdose deaths worsening the situation,” said Brad Finegood, strategic advisor on opioids for the Seattle and King County Public Health Department.

Helping people battledrug addiction

The pandemic is seeing no signs of abating and people struggling with drug abuse and mental health problems are at the receiving end. In such a situation, telehealth can be of huge help as it allows the patient and doctors to connect virtually, without breaking the treatment continuity.

Medical Concierge, a Gold Seal accredited leading detox treatment rehab in the U.S., offers effective detox treatment programs to help people in distress. For more information about our detox rehab programs, contact our 24/7 helpline 877 636-0042. Our admission counsellor will be happy to answer all your queries related to detox treatment and telehealth. You can also chat online with our medical representative to know more.

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