Pandemic escalates overdose deaths

February 22, 2021 – Stress, isolation and financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to nearly 84,000 overdose deaths in the year to July 2020 — the highest number of drug fatalities ever recorded in a single year.

The latest figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 23 per cent rise on the previous 12-month period, with opioids accounting for more than 61,000, or 73 per cent, of those deaths.

During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden proposed a $125 billion investment in preventing substance abuse, treatment, and recovery, over ten years, with taxes on the pharmaceutical industry.

Just one in five people with opioid use disorder in the U.S. can access treatment when they need it. President Biden now faces twin health crises — the coronavirus pandemic has also triggered an economic recession that threatens some addiction treatment centres’ survival.

For the president, it’s personal — he has talked openly about his son Hunter’s struggle with addiction and substance use disorders.

In May 2017, as the number of overdose fatalities hit 68,370 over 12 months, President Donald Trump proposed to cut the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget by 95 per cent — from $388 million to just $25 million.

It was not until October 2017, as the number of overdose fatalities hit 70,690, that Trump declared the opioid crisis as a public health emergency.

“If what we’ve been doing was working, we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now with overdose deaths,” says Ryan Hampton, a Biden adviser.

“If we can get someone on the recovery journey and they can sustain that for five years, they have an 85 per cent chance of sustaining that recovery for the rest of their lives,” says Hampton.

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