“This is the greatest number of overdose deaths recorded in a 12-month time period and the largest increase since 1999,” Dr. Nora Volkow (director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health) stated in a statement.
These data are alarming. Volkow added that the COVID-19 epidemic created a catastrophic collision of health crises across America.
Inappropriate use of opioids is responsible for most deaths, as in the past. According to the NCHS, opioid overdose deaths rose from 50,963 in 2019, to 69,710 by 2020.
Volkow stated that “This was an extremely uncertain and stressful time for many people” and noted that there has been an increase in drug use, difficulty accessing life-saving treatment for substance use disorders and a dramatic rise in overdose deaths.
“We must make it easier for people with substance abuse disorders to access treatment as we address the COVID-19 crisis and the opioid crisis.”
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is vice dean of public health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was previously a deputy commission at US Food and Drug Administration. He agreed that the pandemic had made an already grave crisis worse.
Sharfstein stated to Daily Reuters that the pandemic played a significant role in it.
“But even as the pandemic recedes we still have to deal with the overdose crisis.”
For decades, the US has seen an increase in opioid overdoses. Some members of Congress blame the FDA for the approval of new synthetic opioids. The makers of some drugs, including Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma, have been charged with marketing them.
As part of legal proceedings to dissolve the company, Purdue was settled by members of the Sackler Family, who own Purdue. The settlement amounts to $4.5 billion.
Overprescribing opioids to patients and addicting them has been a major problem.
Sharfstein stated that he believes the FDA should do more to regulate opioid prescribing.
Sharfstein stated that there are certain actions that the medical community can take in order to lower the risk of people becoming addicted opioids. Sharfstein spoke to Daily Reuters.
The FDA’s oversight of clinical and medical practice is an area that the agency recognizes needs improvement. It is not fair to question whether a drug should have been approved. Sharfstein said that the focus should now be on prescribing oversight.
“If you look at how much progress the country has made on Covid since there were clear national strategies that included data and goals, I believe that this approach is crucial. It is possible to see results with the same urgency and strategy as was applied to Covid over time.
Sharfstein was happy to hear Tuesday’s announcement that President Joe Biden would nominate Dr. Rahul Gupta, a former West Virginia health commissioner, to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gupta, if confirmed, would become the office’s first physician.
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“Dr. Gupta has a lot of experience in interpreting the drug crisis as a problem for health. Sharfstein stated that he will follow the evidence wherever it leads him.