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Commentary: Spike in drug overdoses fuels epidemic

By Nickolaus Hayes

A report released by The American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force showed there had been a dramatic increase in fatalities involving drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and illicit opioids.

However, the report points out that opioid prescribing decreased for the sixth year in a row between 2013 and 2019. Overall, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by more than 90 million, which was a 37.1% decrease nationally.

The decline in drug-related overdose deaths in 2018 is partially due to this. However, more drug users are now dying from illicitly produced drugs.

Between 2015 and 2019, deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl and its analogs increased from 5,766 to 36,509. Similar increases were seen with methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.

A preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed over 72,000 drug-related overdose deaths in 2019. By the end of 2020, this number is expected to increase, largely due to the pandemic and existing trend from 2019.

Currently, health professionals are predicting the number of drug overdoses will continue to rise unless more is done to help the more than 2 million Americans with an untreated substance use disorder.

According to Drug Rehab Services, between 2008 and 2018, the number of treatment facilities in the nation was stable. However, roughly 8%-15% of treatment facilities from year to year closed and were no longer providing services.

During the height of the lockdowns, many treatment centers had to close their doors or reduce services.

It is not known how many will be fully operational by the end of the year. However, according to a report from the Addiction Policy Forum, more than one in three or 34% of respondents reported changes or disruptions in accessing treatment during the pandemic.

The lockdowns and everything associated with the pandemic has been devastating for every American. Still, treatment providers must be aware the indicators are there regarding an upward trend with the number of drug-related overdose deaths involving multiple illicitly manufactured drugs.

Nickolaus Hayes is a health care professional in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery.