The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the United States since March has not deterred the nation’s opioid epidemic from continuing to take lives, a new report from the American Medical Association.
In a new report, the AMA said it is “greatly concerned” by increasing reports from national, state, and local media, suggesting increases in opioid-related deaths. Particularly concerning, the association said was the reports of death coming from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs.
The report said that more than 20 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths, as well as concerns over those with mental health issues or substance use disorder in counties and other areas in the state.
But the association said it was pleased with the federal response to the crisis.
“The AMA is pleased that the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have provided increased flexibility for providing buprenorphine and methadone to patients with opioid use disorder,” the association said. “The AMA is further pleased at increased flexibility provided by the DEA to help patients with pain obtain necessary medications.”
However, the association said, there are other things the federal government must do to reduce opioid-related harms.
First, the AMA said, state governors must adopt the SAMHSA and DEA ruled and guidance for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, including ensuring flexibility in evaluation and prescribing via telemedicine. Secondly, states must remove prior authorization, step therapy, and other barriers for medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorder. Third, states must remove barriers for patients with pain to get the medications they need, including removing dose, quantity, and refill restrictions on controlled substances.
Lastly, the AMA said states should enact, implement, and support harm-reduction strategies, including removing the barriers to sterile needle and syringe services programs.