Despite the challenges, we must fight harder to address the nation’s opioid epidemic
In an op-ed Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, AMA Immediate Past President, writes about what states can do to help ensure the nation’s opioid epidemic does not become worse during COVID-19. An excerpt follows:
“While we continue to take steps to address COVID-19 to help keep the public safe, the AMA has seen reports from more than 30 states concerning increases in opioid-related mortality, mental health crises, suicide and addiction-related relapse. Reports are from every region in the nation. This includes a 20 percent increase in calls to the Jacksonville, Fla., fire department concerning overdoses; an “unusual spike” in overdoses in DuPage County, Ill.; increased emergency department visits in coastal North Carolina and spikes in fentanyl-related overdoses in Seattle. Georgia, too, has not been spared, causing increased concern for many.
Social distancing, a dramatic increase in unemployment and widespread economic woes lend themselves to common substance misuse triggers: isolation and anxiety. The medical community often refers to addiction as “a disease of isolation,” and Americans are at high risk now, even those who did not misuse opioids previously. Those who are homeless or incarcerated may be particularly vulnerable. At the end of April, 28 percent of Americans reported worsening mental health, and 34 percent reported worsening emotional well-being.
As these stories continue, the AMA is working with federal agencies to help protect our communities. In particular, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have increased flexibility for providing buprenorphine and methadone to patients with opioid use disorder, and the DEA has also increased flexibility to help patients with pain obtain necessary medications.
Additional steps must be taken to help ensure the nation’s opioid epidemic does not become worse.”