Drug experts say the administration should apply the same urgency to ending opioid deaths as it did in response to Covid-19.

“We need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Jerome Adams, a former U.S. surgeon general and member of the Task Force on Opioid Crisis at the Center for Two-Party Policy. “Kovid will not disappear.”

Deaths from all drug overdoses increased by 15 percent in 2020, when an estimated 93,655 people died.

Opioid deaths rose from 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021, while deaths from drugs including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, psychostimulants and cocaine also increased during the year.

“The pandemic has really turned the lives of many people, especially people already living on the margins,” said Maritsa Perez, director of national affairs at the Alliance on Drugs. “People lost their jobs, they were isolated. These are all factors that increase the problem of drug use. “

It hit black, Native American and Hispanic communities the hardest. According to data, the death rate from overdose among blacks and Indians between 2019 and 2021 increased by 81 percent. April report on the crisis from the Center for Bipartisan Policy and by 65 percent among Latinos. By comparison, the death rate among white Americans over the same period rose by 40 percent.

Preliminary data reveal one silver: the number of deaths is slowing significantly; between 2019 and 2020, mortality increased by 30 percent compared to 15 percent last year.

Last month, the Biden administration released a new one National Drug Control Strategywhich focuses on drug treatment and strengthening law enforcement to prevent drug trafficking into the country.

The national drug strategy includes several harm reduction measures, such as improving access to a naloxone overdose rescue drug and test strips that help users determine if the drug contains potent synthetic opioids to reduce the risk of overdose. It aims to enable more people to get into treatment programs and strengthen data collection on drug use, treatment and recovery.

“It is unacceptable that we lose our lives from an overdose every five minutes around the clock,” Rahul Gupta, director of the National Drug Control Policy, told POLITICO.

The strategy also focuses heavily on stopping the illicit flow of drugs such as synthetic opioids to the U.S., targeting drug trafficking from both Mexico and China – something Republicans have been harassing President Joe Biden against his immigration and border politics.

Drug experts say the administration has given a new and desired focus to reducing overdose deaths, in particular through harm reduction. But they say more real and more resources are needed for real impact.

“As we begin to see that Covid-19 is becoming more endemic, the opioid epidemic has worsened,” said Marla Kushner, president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine.

Kushner said she appreciated the administration’s clear efforts to include groups like her in a meeting on the best way to resolve the crisis. But, she said, “We need more meetings, more money, more action, more supplies, more of everything.”

Nora Volkov, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest death toll a “devastating milestone” in a statement to POLITICO. “What exacerbates the tragedy,” she added, “is that we have not used enough treatments that could help many people. We need to meet with people where they are to prevent overdoses, reduce harm and connect people to proven treatments to reduce drug use. ”

Improving data collection and reporting is another important adjustment that needs to be made to the administration’s approach to the crisis, said Adams of the Center for Two-Party Policy.

Some of the data released by the CDC on Wednesday is now more than a year old, he points out. “You have a year to spare. There is no way to save these lives, ”he said.

He said the administration needs to replicate the real-time dashboards they created for Covid-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations related to the opioid epidemic so government officials, doctors and community members can see what is happening across the country.

“If you’re in a community where an overdose is increasing, maybe you’ll pick up nalaxone. Maybe you are talking to your children about how to protect yourself, ”he said. “Now we’re driving down the road and looking in the rearview mirror.”


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