Around 70,000 Americans have died due to opioid overdose in 2019 alone. Reports received from more than 40 states have shown that an increasing rate of deaths from the opioid. The situation is becoming worse. The opioid crisis may have been set aside due to the COVID-19 pandemic but its consequences continue to manifest showing an even greater death toll. New preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that the death rate is on a constant hike from past years. Data indicates that more Americans have died as a result of Opioid overdose in the leading year of September 2020 than any other 12 months period since the opioid crisis began. It represents a 29% increase in death due to opioid overdose. It is worth mentioning that the biggest spike in deaths occurred in April and May 2020, when lockdowns were the strictest.
Pandemic Lockdowns Converged with Social Impairments
This increase of deaths indicates that the opioid crisis has worsened during the pandemic. Social distancing measures that were taken to limit the spread of the virus have contributed to one of the deadliest opioid crises in years. While the earliest years of the opioid crisis were hard on the whole nation, black people and other minority communities are the most affected by opioid overdose disorder.
Experts say that the increase in deaths from the opioid epidemic is largely due to social isolation and temporary closure of many one-on-one appointment-based programs crucial for addiction-related treatments. April and May 2020 recorded the most opioid overdose deaths which was the height of pandemic lockdowns. During this period, many people loss their livelihoods, lived in isolation and loss access to addiction treatment services.
The Opioid Crisis is Getting Worse
It is clear that state-level policies and COVID-19 preventions resulted in the worsening of the opioid crisis. Patients have been impaired by health insurance providers that pose barriers for treatment of opioid use disorder. Health insurance companies delay access to non-opioid pain care and evidence-based opioid use disorder.
Opioid Crisis and the Way Forward
The opioids crisis has its roots in the mid of 90s when prescription drugs like OxyContin hit the market doing aggressive marketing strategies from pharmaceutical companies. There was little to no regard on the long term ill effects of the drug.
Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, and nearly half died using a prescription opioid with no access to basic counseling services. The crisis stretches from the largest cities to the smallest of towns.
Combating the opioid crisis will require better management of pain, community involvement, and more consistent use of improved alternative pain-control tools. Authorities must overcome limited resources, societal ills that fuel addiction, and the stigma attached to illicit drug use. Little things like promoting the use prescription medication bags with locks could help prevent misuse and overdose.
Despite the media publicity that this crisis has received and more resource allocation from federal, local, and state resources, the epidemic has not abated. There is a need to make more informed researched-based decisions to craft a better policy to deal with the opioid crisis. PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) has devised some initiatives, which are:
- Focusing on reducing unsafe prescribing of opioids
- Better management of patients who are on chronic opioid therapy
- Medication assistance treatment for patients with substance use disorder
Moreover, initiatives should be taken to provide improved first aid treatment for opioid overdose. This should include naloxone and buprenorphine that immediately reverse the effects of heroin and Fentanyl mixed drugs. Some people need more than outpatient medication so there needs to be more structured inpatient programs.
It is important to get into a behavioral treatment program in addition to medication. This includes peer specialists, behavioral therapy, antidepressants, etc. A peer specialist is an effective approach where recovered addicts who are now sober, counsel and help current patients deal with the problem.
Psychologists also play a role in dealing with the opioid crisis. Here are a few methodologies they are considering applying.
Enhancement Through Behavioral Interventions
While medication like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are the backbone of the treatment, it is just one side. Psychologists are working with treatment teams to address the conditions that often come with opioid use disorder. This includes anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If not managed, all of these can lead to a relapse.
Expanding Social Support
Successful treatments take a comprehensive approach. That is why psychologists are designing programs that support people with housing, work, and relationship challenges. Family therapy interventions are proven to help people repair relationships fractured by drug use. This has proven effective in recovering from opioid use disorder.
The stigma surrounding substance abuse can fuel unfair treatment and deter a person from seeking help. In response, psychologists are designing programs to uproot the stigma by educating people about substance use including changing the language used to describe it.
Managing Pain Without Substances
The most commonly used and best-studied psychological treatment for pain is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps people with addiction think differently about their pain and resume activities they think might trigger the pain. CBT has proven effective on people dealing with opioid addiction and help patients to cope.
Identifying Patients at Risk
Psychological assessment help determine patients’ readiness to receive and recover from potentially painful procedures. Recently, an online system has been developed by a group of psychologists to rate their pain intensity, mood, and other factors. This helps informs psychologists and other help care providers when it is time to intervene.
The opioid crisis has gotten worse but as the nation starts to recover from the blows dealt by the pandemic, we must learn from our mistakes and address the crisis once and for all. Cumulative effort and cooperation is needed to address the problem at the root