Thursday, November 18, 2021

Drug Overdose Deaths Reach Record High During Pandemic

Drug overdoses killed more than 100,000 people in the United States during the one-year period ending in April 2021, according to provisional data issued yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This marks the first time that drug overdose deaths reached six figures in one year and represents a 29% increase in overdose deaths from the prior year.

Synthetic opioids (that mimic the effects of natural opioids like heroin but are far more potent), primarily fentanyl, were responsible for 64% of the total deaths, a rise of nearly 50% from the year before, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, were responsible for 28% of the total deaths.

APA, responding to this news, renewed its call for the following actions:

  • Improved access to mental health and substance use services through early identification, utilizing evidence-based models that integrate behavioral health treatment into primary care services.
  • Effective substance use disorder treatment for all patients, through the development of science-based policies that are based on a thorough review and discussion with Congress, federal policymakers, and experts in the field of addiction treatment.
  • Policies and programs to support accredited medical schools and residency programs to provide training for the treatment of individuals with substance use disorders and incentivize more educators, consultants, and physician leaders to take on roles to develop an addiction workforce.

White House Response

The White House Office of Drug Control Policy also yesterday issued a model law states may adopt to expand access to the emergency opioid agonist naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses. At present, naloxone access is largely dependent on where one lives, according to Rahul Gupta, M.D., director of National Drug Control Policy.

“This model law provides states with a framework to make naloxone accessible to those who need it—an evidence-based solution that, according to research, would have a significant effect on reducing opioid-related overdose deaths,” Gupta said in a media release.

The model law aims to be a template for state legislatures. It would require health insurers to cover naloxone, encourage citizens to obtain it, protect individuals from unjust prosecution for administering it, and increase access in educational and correctional settings.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services released an overview of the Biden administration’s plan to combat drug overdoses. It includes measures designed to remove barriers to prescribing medication for opioid use disorder; reduce stigma; and provide new funding for prevention, evidence-based treatment and recovery support, and harm reduction. President Biden’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget for drug-related programs and initiatives totals $11.2 billion, a 54% increase over this year’s budget.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Drug Overdoses Surge Due to Pandemic, Early Reports Show.”

(Image: iStock/fizkes)

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