During 2020, the nation experienced its worst year ever for deaths relating to substance use disorder. This public-health disaster has been overshadowed by the more than 330,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, but ironically, it is the pandemic that is exacerbating drug-overdose-related deaths. In San Francisco, for example, more people have died this year from overdoses than from COVID-19.1
A Large Accelerating Trend
According to a CDC alert2 published on December 17, the agency reported a “concerning acceleration” in drug overdose deaths for 2020. Provisional data shows it is on track to be the deadliest year for U.S. drug overdose deaths in recorded history.
In a separate release,3 the CDC reports that the largest increase was recorded from March 2020 to May 2020, coinciding with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of widespread mitigation measures. The economy collapsed, lockdowns were imposed, and social distancing became a new way of life. In addition to unemployment and persistent financial insecurity driving up despair, public-health experts have suggested that isolation during the pandemic has led more people to use drugs alone with no one around to revive them or call 911 if they overdose.
A 15 Percent Increase in Deaths
The CDC estimates that 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred from June 2019 to May 2020 (up 15 percent from 70,630 during the same previous 12-month period).4 Complete data for 2020 is not expected to be available until later this year.
Illegally manufactured fentanyl is largely responsible for the soaring death rate (a 38.4 percent increase), according to the CDC. However, the CDC found that across the country, deaths are also steeply rising from stimulants like cocaine (a 26.5 percent increase) and methamphetamine (a 34.8 percent increase). Additionally, many deaths involve a combination of different kinds of drugs, not just opioids.
A Critical Crisis Requiring a Complex Solution
“The increase in overdose deaths is concerning,” said Deb Houry, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “CDC’s Injury Center continues to help and support communities responding to the evolving overdose crisis. Our priority is to do everything we can to equip people on the ground to save lives in their communities.”
Substance use disorder and addiction coupled with the strain of navigating a pandemic presents a complex multi-faceted treatment problem. With the continuation of the pandemic into 2021, addiction treatment providers are seeking solutions. Speranza Therapeutics’ S.T.Genesis is an important first step of a comprehensive approach to breaking the addiction cycle. This innovative, new treatment option is an FDA-cleared, Percutaneous Nerve Field Stimulator (PNFS) device to help reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. From a clinical standpoint, opioid withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving opioid dependence and addictive behaviors. The number one reason for continued opioid use is avoiding the pain of withdrawal.5 By managing withdrawal symptoms, S.T.Genesis can play a pivotal role in transitioning a patient through the initial detox phase and toward longer term treatment.
5. Weiss RD, Potter JS, Griffin ML, et al. Reasons for opioid use among patients with dependence on prescription opioids: the role of chronic pain. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2014;47(2):140-145. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2014.03.004