Experts Look for Solutions as Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Surge
Baltimore, MD, November 8, 2021 — There’s no question that the pandemic caused a troubling upward trend in addiction disorders, with many people turning to substances like opioids to help them cope with the loss of a loved one, feelings of isolation or job stress. But amid the darkness came a sliver of light: the dawn of telehealth and tele-mental health services, which provide convenient ways for folks to seek help.
“We’ve also seen the rollout of naloxone … the opioid reversal agent that can save lives,” said Dr. Paul Christo in a recent interview. “It doesn’t have to be prescribed by a physician. It can be, but in certain states, pharmacists can dispense it without a prescription. … And … drugs like methadone, buprenorphine and suboxone … these drugs help prevent relapse, reduce craving and are really important.”
Dr. Christo, Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wants to remind those battling addiction to make use of these valuable telemedicine and tele-mental health services, and adds that it’s important for clinicians to advocate to their patients that online treatment options — including telehealth prescriptions for critical medications — are available.
The opioid epidemic today progressed in three phases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first involves deaths caused by prescription opioids, the second, an increase in heroin use, and the third, a surge in the use of synthetic opioids or fentanyl. Experts say the U.S. is right in the middle of the third phase of the epidemic, due to the increasing availability of fentanyl and increasing rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids.
According to a recent study there were 632,331 drug overdoses between 1999 and 2016. Most of these deaths (78.2 percent) were drug overdoses with known drug classification. Moreover, 21.8 percent were unclassified drug overdoses. A further investigation revealed that for unclassified drug overdoses, 71.8 percent involved opioids, translating to 99,160 additional opioid-related deaths.
There were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to an estimate from the CDC. Based on findings from the new study, over half of those deaths — about 47,000 — are suspected of having involved opioids.
Another study on opioid overdoses found that the number of drug overdose deaths decreased by 4 percent from 2017 to 2018. In 2018, more than 67,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Almost 70 percent involved a prescription or illicit opioid of those deaths.
“COVID-19 impacted the drug supply chain by closing borders on some regions, and it led to the higher death rate,” Dr. Christo explained. He added that drugs become more challenging to get, and the potency of overdose goes up. It also impacts the price, everything goes up, and in that sense, it becomes more deadly each day, according to Dr. Christo.
About Dr. Paul Christo
Dr. Paul Christo serves as Director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Fellowship Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is the author of Aches and Gains, A Comprehensive Guide to Overcoming Your Pain. Dr. Paul Christo also hosts an award-winning, nationally syndicated SIRIUS XM radio talk show on overcoming pain called, Aches and Gains®. For more information about Dr. Paul Christo. Please visit www.paulchristomd.com.