“The concerns we have are related to the big challenges people are facing right now with COVID-19: isolation and uncertainty resulting in very high levels of stress.” — Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA)
According to a White House drug policy office analysis, there was a significant rise (11.4%) in drug-related deaths in the first four months of 2020, giving further evidence to experts’ caution that lockdown and quarantine measures in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the current economic hardships, have heightened the addiction crisis.
These statistics indicate the pandemic poses considerable added challenges to the millions of Americans who are struggling with substance abuse issues (nearly 20 million, as of the latest national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Per a recent Politico.com article, “Top Trump administration officials say drug overdose deaths are surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, driven by increased substance use due to anxiety, social isolation and depression.”
Some states have been affected much more severely than others. Statistics in Kentucky and West Virginia—both states having populations with disproportionately high addiction rates—have shown, respectively, a 25% increase in overdose deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and a 50% increase in overdose-related EMS calls in the month of May.
Another key factor to consider during this rise in overdose deaths associated with the COVID-19a pandemic is the Trump administration’s attempt to get the Supreme Court to do eliminate the Affordable Care Act. Doing so without effective replacement measures would critically jeopardize coverage of benefits for all those who rely upon the government’s addiction and mental health services.
“Experts say undoing the ACA would undermine any efforts to address drug addiction.”
This problem affects the insurance coverage to 1.2 million Americans with substance use disorders, per an analysis by Health Affairs. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the government’s request to do away with the ACA, all of those people will lose their coverage.
Additionally, it was reported the federal government has put on hold a billion-dollar research program at the National Institutes of Health focused on new forms of addiction treatment. (The freeze is in line with the current government policy to fund only COVID-19-related work.)
While it’s understandable the country needs to give its greatest attention to the current pandemic, one must reasonably ask whether other facets of society in dire need of attention warrant appropriate levels of support. In California, a state dealing with significantly high levels of both coronavirus cases and drug-related overdoses, the senior government affairs director for the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, Sherry Daley, said, “The addiction crisis has been overshadowed by efforts to help other health providers on the front lines of the pandemic response. I’m afraid California will also see a dramatic spike in overdose deaths. We know it’s coming. There just isn’t a desire at this point to have a strategy to dampen that curve.”
Hopefully, the coronavirus curve will begin to flatten sooner than later, providing an opportunity for funding to be restored to addiction treatment research, but more importantly, addiction and mental health services needed so urgently needed nationwide.