Rise in Opioid Overdose: Addressing an Epidemic within a Pandemic

Rise in Opioid Overdose: Addressing an Epidemic within a Pandemic

The current pandemic has caused an onslaught of dilemmas for Americans everywhere, affecting different facets of society from housing to education and the economy. Among these is an epidemic often forgotten about by the masses: opioid addiction.

The pandemic has only worsened the situation for those who are already struggling. Access to support groups, which are now mostly facilitated online, are becoming scarce. Without proper internet access, people could be cut-off from support for days, if not longer. For William Smith, 60, of Los Angeles, this is exactly what happened.

“Worst thing I can be is bored and by myself. That’s when you jump up and go to a meeting, and you start listening to people’s woes and problems…It’s camaraderie, and friendship,” Smith said.

After his cell phone data ran out, Smith could no longer join the Narcotics Anonymous meetings on Skype. For the first few days, he felt okay. That was until he relapsed.

A nationwide rise in reports

There are at least 38 states with reports of overdoses, deaths, and an overall increase of those in need of support during the span of the pandemic. The American Medical Association (AMA) is urging governors and state legislatures to take initiative. They outlined some actions states could take amidst concerns that the longer the COVID-19 pandemic extends, the more the nation’s opioid epidemic will progress. The suggestions include removing existing barriers that prevent patients from receiving medication, such as restrictions on quantity and refill, and removing administrative barriers that limit who qualifies for treatment, such as step therapy and prior authorization.

California’s safe consumption sites

A bill that would legalize ‘safe consumption sites’ in San Francisco and Oakland is now back on the table. Safe consumption sites are facilities where people can use drugs safely, but only under medical supervision. The COVID-19 pandemic has made such facilities more necessary than ever which prompted a renewal by California state Senate’s Health Committee to review the bill.

Susan Eggman’s Chief of Staff, David Stammerjohan mentioned, “This is not an easy bill under any circumstance.”

For over a year, the legislation, AB 362, had been put aside since Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it due to concerns it would violate federal statutes back in May 2019.

One of the co-authors of the bill, Catie Stewart, said, “We’re hopeful there’s a different outcome with Governor Newsom.”

During his campaign, Gov. Gavin Newsom claimed he was “open” to the idea.

Despite the rise of overdose deaths in multiple counties, the number of people seeking treatment is declining

In comparisons from April to January, the CA Bridge Program recorded 24% fewer people are attending follow-up appointments and have dosed 48% fewer people with medication to treat withdrawals. This is in addition to the 35% fewer people in emergency rooms with opioid addictions.

Jeffrey Nagel, the director of Orange County’s Behavioral Health Services, said, “Fewer people are seeking treatment for services during this time period, but an increase in relapses has been noted for those who are involved in treatment.”

Several factors may be playing into this trend. For example, fear of the virus discourages people to come for in-person services at treatment facilities. Social distancing measures are leaving people feeling more isolated than usual.

“The fight against COVID is like the fight against addiction, so one hand just clasping the other,” Smith explained.

To people who experiencing multiple, intertwining crises at once, many are uncertain seeking treatment will be successful.

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