Addiction & Overdose

Addressing the “Epidemic in the Pandemic”

December 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is now responsible for more than 10 million infections and 250,000 deaths in the United States. It arrived when the nation was already battling another crisis: the rising rates of fatal overdose from opioids and other drugs. Drug-related deaths have skyrocketed in the past few decades to levels that are four times greater than in the 1990s. Even before COVID-19, overdose deaths contributed to declining life expectancy between 2015 and 2017—the longest sustained decrease in life expectancy in the past century.

Preliminary data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is making the overdose crisis worse. Historically high unemployment rates and preventative physical distancing measures have exacerbated social isolation and despair, known risk factors for substance use disorders. Many models indicate that COVID-19 will cause increases in suicidessubstance use, and overdose deaths. Indeed, preliminary data show increases in both fatal and nonfatal overdoses in many cities and states.

To address “the epidemic in the pandemic,” faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health collaborated with partners in the Bloomberg Opioid Initiative to develop a special set of recommendations. The recommendations aim to address these impacts via policy solutions in the areas of data and surveillance, harm reduction, treatment, and special consideration for vaccine distribution, justice-involved individuals, and those experiencing homelessness.

Read the report here.

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