The Overdose Death Toll is Staggering. Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control released national data that confirms almost 30% increase in deaths by drug overdose. Tragically, over 93,000 people died from overdoses in 2020. This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in the USA.
While the COVID-19 health crisis was raging, a catastrophic number of overdose deaths also grew. Abuse of opioids (Fentanyl and OxyContin), psychostimulants (methamphetamine) and cocaine all increased in usage and as a consequence so too did the number of deaths from the previous year. Think about the families you know whose lives have been ravaged. Think of the number of police, paramedics and funeral home directors who have been first responders to families. Think of the families you know or who you may be working with. For every person who dies, there are at least 20 other people whose lives were altered.
Covid brought with it many human problems, deaths of loved ones, an increase in unemployment, financial challenges, zoom school, anxiety, and depression. Amidst all of this, alcohol and other drug abuse increased, as did the death count from overdoses.
It is no secret that opioid abuse has been growing for decades. Finger pointing and blame ranges from the FDA to pharmaceutical companies to over-prescribing physicians.
Purdue Pharma, and others have been prosecuted for their role in marketing prescription pain medications, with Purdue Pharma recently reaching a $4.5 billion settlement as a part of dissolving their company.
Yet that is not enough!
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former deputy commission at the US Food and Drug Administration, in an interview with CNN, said he believes the FDA must do more to control over-prescribing opioids and that the clinical community must do more to reduce the risk of opioid addiction. A national strategy on the growing, manufacturing, marketing and illegal distribution of drugs must also be addressed. Dr. Sharfstein suggests, in part, that the national strategy employed to handle COVID-19 could be useful in combating the crisis in substance abuse. However, much more must be done.
This tragic increase in substance abuse related deaths also points to a serious problem with the availability of treatment options. The crisis in treatment options is real, and it is challenging, yet help is available in every state of country. It is finding available options and navigating help that families can use that becomes problematic.
As a clinician/ interventionist, I know that every day I receive calls from across the county and I give out other resources across the country. Families also feel desperate, as they do not know what to do or what to say. And many find Addiction in the Family : Helping Families Navigate Challenges Emotions and Recovery a good resource.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, there is always help, always a solution. Together, we can stem this tidal wave of this challenges