As the coronavirus continues to cause a pandemic, the opioid epidemic is also gaining momentum. In 2020, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths.
While the data seems grim, medical experts from several organizations have stepped up their efforts to help those in need. However, 2020 may offer some painful learning opportunities on how to combat the opioid epidemic moving forward.
Factors Worsening the Opioid Epidemic in 2020
For over 20 years, the United States has been striving to understand and combat a lethal opioid epidemic. Sadly, the little progress made in the last few years has been reversed, mainly due to the pandemic. While many factors are contributing to worsening opioid use in 2020, here are some of the top concerns.
Increased Stress and Fear
The pandemic has created a convergence of triggers. Even individuals who have been in recovery for years may fall prey to the stress and fear of the COVID-19 virus.
People in recovery need community. Social distancing measures, while designed to protect, can also cause feelings of isolation and increased mental health issues. Quarantine has disrupted traditional support networks leading to increased danger for addicted individuals. The longer those in recovery isolate, the greater their risk of relapse and overdose.
Spread of Illicit Fentanyl
When someone cannot access prescription opioids, they may turn to more dangerous street drugs, such as heroin. However, many dealers are lacing their products with fentanyl. This deadly synthetic opioid can be 50 times more potent than heroin. The rapid spread of illicit fentanyl puts users at a higher risk of overdose death.
Helping Patients in Opioid Treatment Programs in 2020
Thankfully, the medical community is taking action to combat these alarming trends and help people in the midst of the pandemic. Organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) have recommended blanket exceptions that will help those in recovery receive treatment from their opioid treatment programs (OTPs).
One exception is providing patients in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs with limited take-home medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine. This ensures patients who might not be able to come to their OTP daily still have access to medication without delay.
Potential Opioid Treatment Insights Gained From the 2020 Pandemic
While most reports show that factors surrounding the pandemic are simultaneously worsening the opioid epidemic, experts are also gaining valuable insight during this time. Now may be the perfect opportunity to adopt novel treatment approaches.
If isolation and social distancing have worsened the opioid epidemic, investing in opposite behaviors may strengthen the attack on the crisis. In the future, those struggling with opioid addiction may have better access to MAT. Also, OTPs may include more counseling opportunities with a greater focus on:
- Facilitating human connections
- Emotional resiliency building
- Stress reduction techniques
- Health education
- Group treatment
- Promoting sustainable physical activity into a daily routine
Learn How You Can Begin MAT
If you struggle with opioid addiction, please know that you are not alone. Even in this time of crisis, you can recover. Learn about MAT when you contact a BAART Programs clinic near you.