Coronavirus US: Pandemic causes spike in drug overdose deaths

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Drug overdose deaths have spiked in the US due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, a new report finds. 

A total of 42 states have reported an increase in fatalities, mainly due to fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, since the crisis began, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

Counties in Arkansas, California, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington are reporting surges in opioid-related fatalities compared to years prior.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported drug overdose deaths jumped to nearly 71,000 – a record high that could be broken at the end of 2020.

The pandemic has created the perfect breedings ground for addiction with many turning to opioids to cope with job losses and the deaths of loved ones to the programs being canceled or replaced with telemedicine for those trying to maintain sobriety.    

A new report reveals that 42 US states are reporting an increase in opioid-related fatalities as the coronavirus pandemic has continued

The overall national opioid prescribing rate has been declining since 2012 and, in 2017, the prescribing rate had fallen to the lowest it had been in more than 10 years. 

In fact, the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased by 37 percent between 2014 and 2019, according to the AMA.

However, many people can’t afford prescription painkillers anyway and end up turning to street drugs.

‘I think the most critical and top line message is that the epidemic has grown more deadly,’ Dr Patrice Harris, immediate past president of the AMA, said during a roundtable discussion last month.

‘The overdoses and deaths are now fueled by illicitly manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

‘So we really need to broaden our focus when it comes to overdoses and not just focus on opioids because we see them driven by other substances now.’ 

Drug users during the pandemic may be facing stress factors such as the loss of a job, fear of being evicted or the death of a loved one. 

The pattern of drugs involved in overdose deaths has changed in recent years, moving away from heroin and natural opioids to synthetic opioids including fentanyl.

According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, 68 percent of fentanyl and precursors used to make the drug originate in China. 

These factory-produced drugs, cheap and easy to make, are sold either directly to the US or via trafficking networks set up in Mexico. 

According to the Southern Nevada Health District, Clark County – of which Las Vegas is part – saw 63 deaths involving fentanyl among residents up to August of this year.

Over the same period last year, there were 28 fentanyl deaths, which indicates an increase of 125 percent.

Counties in states such as California and Nevada say much of it is driven by fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine. Pictured: A woman tends to a luminary during a vigil in remembrance of victims of overdose deaths in Gloucester, Massachusetts, August 31


Prescription opioids and illicit drugs have become incredibly pervasive throughout the US, and things are only getting worse.  

In the early 2000s, the FDA and CDC started to notice a steady increase in cases of opioid addiction and overdose. In 2013, they issued guidelines to curb addiction. 

However, that same year – now regarded as the year the epidemic took hold – a CDC report revealed an unprecedented surge in rates of opioid addiction.

Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of death among young Americans – killing more in a year than were ever killed annually by HIV, gun violence or car crashes.

In 2019, the CDC revealed that nearly 71,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. 

This is up from about 59,000 just three years prior, in 2016, and more than double the death rate from a decade ago.

It means that drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.

The data lays bare the bleak state of America’s opioid addiction crisis fueled by deadly manufactured drugs like fentanyl.

In San Diego, there have been 203 fentanyl-related deaths in the first six months of 2020, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported.

By comparison, there were 152 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in San Diego County in all of 2019.

‘Basically all the progress we made has now been reversed. And this is even before the pandemic,’ Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said during a panel discussion organized by the University of Southern California in July.

‘Every indication we have in terms of stress, in terms of surveys about increasing [drug] use during the pandemic, basically everything is pointed in the wrong direction.’ 

Social distancing has also made it harder for people to connect with support groups and treatment programs.

Many struggling with addiction either don’t have internet service to attend virtual meetings or saw their programs cut altogether. 

Dr Charles Reznikoff, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, says that many institutions are likely facing financial pressure and may be cutting additional services.    

‘I think we’re, especially now with COVID-19, every health care institution in the country is under financial stress and every health care institution in the country is looking at what they need to cut, what they can cut, how they can make the budget work, and addiction programs are being cut,’ he said. 

‘I’m really worried about addiction services being cut. But we need payment reform, and we need our healthcare institutions in state and federal level to commit to this because COVID-19, believe it or not, will end someday. 

‘But complex pain and addiction, those will exist as long as human beings walk on this earth.’ 


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