For the past 22 years, overdose deaths have been on the rise. The opioid epidemic in the United States has reached across our nation and into our communities. Although it is a national priority to impact the current trajectory, the current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the current trend causing alarming new trends.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “a recent national review of more than 73 million patient records found that patients with COVID-19 infection and substance use disorders had greater hospitalization and death rates than patients with COVID-19 without substance use disorders.”
In addition, 16% more overdoses were reported in February 2020 than February 2019 and this number escalated to 42% more in May 2020 compared with May 2019.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the nation, necessary measures to contain the virus disrupted treatment, while also impacting access to substance use disorder services and to buprenorphine/methadone. Moreover, there is a greater reluctance to go to the ER due to fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 and the overall limited access to hospital beds. Medical comorbidities, which are often detected in this population, are also adding to the increase in deaths.
The impact of stay-at-home orders and the economic distress due to unemployment or decreased income may also be factors that impact this population and increase overdoses.
In order to curve this trend, the health care and stakeholder communities must coordinate and increase access to care. Provide Naloxone prescriptions after an overdose and visit to an ER. Provide referrals and access to addiction treatment programs. Increase and encourage the use of Telemedicine for direct home visits. Provide office-based care with buprenorphine. Provide more hotlines for substance use and overdose emergencies, and increase virtual community support meetings for individuals.