The COVID-19 Pandemic And The Opioid Epidemic Collide

Early indicators show the COVID-19 pandemic is adding fuel to the fight against opioid abuse through facility closings, support group cancellations.
Posted at 5:54 PM, Oct 01, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim American lives, experts warn the opioid epidemic is surging. 


"COVID-19 is here. It will be here for some time. But in a year or two, you know, it's it's the opioid use disorder epidemic that'll still be with us," Dr. Anund Parekh, Chief Medical Adviser for the Bipartisan Policy Center told Newsy.

The early days of COVID left many opioid addiction patients facing closed treatment centers, cancellations of in-person recovery meetings, or difficulty accessing opioid use disorder medications. In 2019, pre-pandemic death rates grew by 4.9 percent to over 71,000 deaths, with illicitly manufactured fentanyl continuing to drive the increase.

The American Medical Association says at least 30 states have reported overdose deaths rising in 2020. A recent analysis of 500,000 drug tests showed a 32% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl from mid-March through May. Suspected drug overdoses climbed 18% in that same period.

"We also saw increasing rates of opiate opioid overdose in communities of color. So this all paints a picture that we have an ongoing public health challenge here," Parekh said.

Parekh is the chief medical adviser for the Bipartisan Policy Center, which just released a report showing how federal and state governments are funding the fight against opioids. 

Pre pandemic, the study found 60 individual federal funding streams totaling $7.6 billion  going towards activities like prevention, treatment and recovery. But COVID-19 closures and distancing has led to treatment limitations and access to naloxone-the emergency drug to treat overdosed patients.

 In July, the FDA approved requiring manufacturers of opioid pain and opioid use disorder medicines to update package inserts to include naloxone recommendations. These changes officially take effect in early 2021. 

"It's not enough," Parekh said."Data suggests that still a minority of individuals with opioid use disorder are getting access to the gold standard medication assisted treatment they need to really combat their addiction."