The history of the opioid epidemic in America is long, complex, and tragic. Each year, tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses, particularly prescription drugs. However, the epidemic has entered a new chapter in 2020. As the overdosing epidemic intersects with the novel Coronavirus pandemic, many new factors are driving a wave of overdose deaths. However, COVID-19 has also led to a few changes that increase availability to addiction care.

COVID-Based Factors Increasing Overdose Fatalities

Life during COVID-19 is difficult for everyone, particularly those who are most inclined to addiction and overdose. These vulnerable populations are those who feel the emotional, financial, and material consequences of the pandemic the most sharply.

Addicts who are in the process of recovery have a difficult task facing them in the near future. Generally, relapse begins long before an addict returns to substance abuse. Rather, they begin to fall behind on substance abuse and suffer emotionally and psychologically. In this case, turning to substance abuse is a final resort to find relief. With rising stress and social isolation, the pressure on recovering addicts is greater than ever.

These factors also drive abuse and addiction in the general populace. Local, statewide, and national media reports have reported a surge in overdose deaths. Besides heightened rates of drug abuse, COVID is also making it more dangerous to have a substance use disorder. Disruption in the availability of public transportation, shorter hours and other restrictions at clinics and more can amplify the struggle that addicts face.

However, state and national governments haven’t been idle in the meantime. There are numerous policy changes that may give many people better access to addiction treatment than they had before. Additionally, changes in the restrictions surrounding harm-reducing and addiction-treating drugs may help people long after the pandemic ends.

Promising Policy Changes COVID Has Inspired

There aren’t many silver linings to find in a global pandemic. However, the conditions the pandemic created have forced legislators to adapt and push through legislation that’s helping those in treatment. While some measures are purely temporary, others have proven successful and may persist.

The pandemic has prompted some states that originally declined to expand Medicaid to reconsider. Early in the summer, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt Medicaid expansion after the Coronavirus outbreak. If the remaining states follow suit, it would bring coverage to millions of Americans and many who suffer from substance abuse.

Coronavirus has accelerated changes that will improve care for many citizens, such as the rise of telemedicine. Additionally, legislation on take-home doses of drugs such as naxalone and methadone is loosening restrictions out of necessity. According to this study, allowing take-home doses drives down hospitalization and overdoses.

If these policies succeed as implemented during the pandemic, it’ll be hard to justify undoing them. Any legislator who wants to defend tightening restrictions on life-saving drugs or undoing Medicaid expansion will struggle to find the political will to do so.