While preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that drug overdose deaths increased in 2019 by nearly five percent, health officials fear 2020 will prove to be even deadlier.
According to the CDC, an estimated 72,000 people died of overdoses in 2019. The increase was driven, health officials said, by a rise in deaths from synthetic opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine.
But health officials fear that the COVID-19 pandemic could contribute to more substance misuse and overdose deaths. Preliminary data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy has found a substantial increase in overdoses since the start of stay-at-home orders on March 19 of this year. Additionally, a new study from RTI International has found that, nationally, alcohol sales have increased since March.
“These new data are a stark reminder that we must fight the dual public health threats of COVID-19 and substance misuse at the same time,” John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, said. “While understandably focusing attention on the pandemic response, we can’t neglect the devastation caused by substance misuse and overdoses.”
Coupled with the increase in substance misuse and overdose during Covid is the strain the pandemic has placed on the mental health and behavioral health care system.
While policymakers have increased access to mental health and behavioral health services through telehealth, access to substance misuse treatment is still difficult. Millions have lost or will soon lose their employment-based health insurance. Additionally, many people across the country may recognize they have a substance use disorder, but are afraid seeking treatment could expose them to the coronavirus.
“How many more lives must we lose before we take seriously the need for a comprehensive call to action? We are going in the wrong direction and need to prioritize this larger epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic,” Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer for Well Being Trust, said. “We must begin by investing in solutions that work – those solutions that more seamlessly integrate mental health and substance use disorder treatment into all the places people show up for help.”