BY ABBY G OODNOUGH The
The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis, one that has drawn less attention and fewer resources while the nation has battled the coronavirus pandemic.
Deaths from overdoses started rising again in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic - after dropping slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades - and it is hard to gauge just how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend, which grew much worse last spring: The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May, when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.
Many treatment programs closed during that time, at least temporarily, and "dropin centers" that provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses, cut back services that in many cases have yet to be fully restored.
The preliminary data released Wednesday by the
And unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.
"The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans," Dr.
Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.
"Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit," she said. "Someone who's addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that's laced with an opioid like fentanyl."
The surging death rate eclipses modest gains made during President
"The data points corroborate something I believe, which is that people who were already using drugs started using in ways that were higher risk - especially using alone and from a less reliable supply," Saloner said.
And although the Biden plan embraced medications for addiction, shortly after his inauguration, Biden reversed a move by the Trump administration that would have made it easier for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a lifesaving anti-craving medication, for opioid addiction.
Members of the new administration said at the time that the plan was not legally sound, but one of the priorities listed in the new document is to "remove unnecessary barriers to prescribing buprenorphine."
On Tuesday, several dozen organizations that work on addiction and other health issues asked Biden's health and human services secretary,
Although many programs offering treatment, naloxone and other services for drug users have reopened at least partly as the pandemic has dragged on, many others remain closed or severely curtailed, particularly if they operated on a shoestring budget to begin with.
"With health departments spending so much on COVID, some programs have really had to cut their budgets," she said. "That can mean seeing fewer participants, or pausing their HIV and hepatitis C testing."
At the same time, increases in HIV cases have been reported in several areas of the country with heavy injection drug use, including two cities in
Biden's American Rescue Plan Act includes
Fentanyl or its analogues have increasingly been detected in counterfeit pills being sold illegally as prescription opioids or benzodiazepines- sedatives like Xanax that are used as anti-anxiety medications - and particularly in meth.
Northeastern states that had been hit hardest by opioid deaths in recent years saw some of the smallest increases in deaths in the first half of the pandemic year, with the exception of
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