Data released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding record numbers of overdose deaths in 2020 is certainly disappointing but not surprising. It will be important moving forward that the deserved focus on this epidemic returns as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many aspects of life that often fuel addiction — loneliness, financial woes from job loss, health issues and growing issues within the family dynamic — were exacerbated in 2020.
Nationwide, overdose deaths reached unseen levels in 2020 with the CDC reporting 93,000 deaths, a 29 percent increase from 2019. In Pennsylvania, the increase was more than 16 percent — from 4,444 to 5,172. The numbers were trending down or at least leveling off in Pennsylvania after 5,456 died from a drug overdose in 2017.
“COVID-19 kind of put everything on the back burner as far as any progress” in slowing the opioid epidemic, state Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, said. “If you stop and think about what went on, I mean, people would have been locked up. And, you’re just compounding the problems that they have. People had problems getting treatment. Transportation was a problem. Access to hospitals was limited for counseling and everything else. It all fits together.”
Sadly, predictably, it does.
That doesn’t mean the trend line needs to keep sliding upward.
It does mean that there must be a renewed focus on the things that have shown they can work.
That includes more treatment centers and locations where those struggling can get the real-time, long-term help they need. It includes the continued push of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and having Naloxone, a drug that halts the effects of drug overdoses, readily available. The focus should also include renewed reliance and information sharing on the National Prescription Drug Take Back Days and the permanent locations in the Valley. The complete list is available at https://www.ddap.pa.gov/Prevention/Pages/Drug_Take_Back.aspx.
Take Back Days are officially held twice a year and they are successful. In April, 4,425 law enforcement agencies nationwide collected 420 tons of prescription pills nationally. It is important to remember that there are dozens of permanent locations to safely dispose of unwanted medications in the Valley, including most pharmacies and law enforcement agencies.
In the end, however, it comes down to awareness, prevention and treatment options. It is no one’s fault many of those things fell by the side in 2020, but we must all take responsibility to make sure the step backward in 2020 is only temporary.
NOTES: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executive and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.