Managing the Opioid Epidemic During COVID-19

16 Jul

Managing the Opioid Epidemic During COVID-19

The Opioid Epidemic has significantly impacted the lives of people around the world and continues to do so today during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 in the United States, overdose deaths were four times higher than just 19 years earlier in 1999.1 While overdose deaths decreased by 4% from 2017 to 2018, there were still 68,000 overdose deaths in 2018, with 70% being related to opioid use.1

Although the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has been at the forefront of the media recently, opioid overdose deaths are continuing to claim the lives of an average of 128 Americans daily.1 These two public health crises are occurring simultaneously, COVID-19 and the Opioid Epidemic. Recent studies are emphasizing the connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential larger impact on opioid related overdose deaths.2

While the Opioid Epidemic and COVID-19 seem to be isolated, recent articles suggest conditions created due to COVID-19 including social distancing, altered social interactions, and economic instability have led to increased opioid overdose deaths.2 Social distancing has completely altered daily interactions to allow for virus transmission reduction, but social distancing has also led to profound impacts on individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder.2,3,4 A recent publication by the American Medical Association (AMA) highlights reports of increases in opioid related overdose deaths in 38 American states, with a particular focus on fentanyl and fentanyl analogues.5

Pharmacists have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing to provide care to patients. As accessible and knowledgeable health care providers, pharmacists are in an optimal position to have an impact on the two public health crises occurring, the Opioid Epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. Community pharmacists can take action to combat opioid related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic by:

Recent studies are emphasizing the connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential larger impact on opioid related overdose deaths.

Community pharmacists work daily to provide care to patients by dispensing and optimizing medication regimens. During the coinciding public health crises, COVID-19 and the Opioid Epidemic, it is important for pharmacists to utilize clinical expertise to educate patients and work with other providers to save the lives of patients who may be at increased risk of opioid related overdose deaths. During this critical time, pharmacists can combat both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Opioid Epidemic by saving lives, one patient at a time. 


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Jasmine Perry, BS is a rising third-year Pharm.D. candidate at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy with diverse experience as a pharmacy intern. She currently serves as the Communications Intern with Pharmacy Quality Solutions, Inc. Jasmine is passionate about serving under-served patient populations. Jasmine's passion has been highlighted through clinical experiences, patient interactions, and organizational leadership.