Worsening overdose crisis demands action

The opioid crisis in the United States began long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, but we have no doubt that the pandemic has made the terrible problem worse.

Data released in November by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that for the first time, the country experienced more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths over a 12-month period. The CDC reported that for the year ending March 31, the United States recorded 100,306 drug overdose deaths. This equates to the population of a decent-sized city.

This region suffers from this terrible trend. CDC data shows that between April 2020 and March 2021, Berks County recorded 141 overdose deaths. This equates to a rate of just under 33 deaths per 100,000 people. Things are even worse statewide, as Pennsylvania has recorded an average of about 42 deaths per 100,000 people. There have been 5,410 deaths in the state, behind just California, Florida, Ohio and New York in terms of raw numbers.

Pennsylvania sits on the edge of an Appalachian region that is the epicenter of the drug overdose death crisis. Neighboring West Virginia had by far the highest death rate in the country, with about 90 overdose deaths per 100,000 population.

It is widely accepted that the psychological and economic stresses posed by the COVID-19 pandemic are a big part of the problem. The past 21 months have been difficult for everyone, but especially dangerous for those most at risk for drug addiction.

What is not new is the continued lack of consensus on exactly what to do about this problem.

To be fair, a solution to the drug crisis has proved elusive in states and communities across the country. Leaders are looking for the right balance between law enforcement, treatment options, education, and other tactics to reverse this terrible trend.

“The combined impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drug addiction crisis have been deeply felt in all corners of our state,” said Jennifer Smith, head of the State Department of Drug Prevention and Drug Prevention. ‘alcohol. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling these problems.”

It is certainly true. But there are a lot of ideas floating around and not much action yet. There has been a lot of discussion. Smith’s department is embarking on a statewide “listening tour” and recently hosted a symposium on the issue with the Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and first responders to discuss the importance of carrying the naloxone drug and to outline how the public, businesses, and first responders can access the drug. Lawmakers discuss ways to improve drug treatment in the state, while Attorney General Josh Shapiro discusses plans to spend the billion dollars from a settlement with drug companies.

But the Allentown Morning call reports that there are at least 10 different drug-related proposals on the table in Harrisburg, but most have gone nowhere. They range from training death review teams, to allowing insurance companies to access a database of prescription drugs for citizens, to billing their licenses at medical centers. processing. Meanwhile, some politicians have pledged to point fingers at the issue rather than productive dialogue. Yes, there is still a need for a discussion on these difficult issues involving all parties who must deal with them – law enforcement, state health officials, the treatment community, healthcare professionals. mental health and other medical experts as well as the non-profit sector.

But some new ideas need to be implemented, and quickly. For too long we have worked with policies that don’t work well enough. Let us continue to work on it with the urgency the problem demands and start moving in the same direction. The goal must be to change the conditions that lead so many down this dangerous path and to prepare for effective responses for those who fall into the addiction trap.

We certainly know it is not easy. But giving up is not an option.

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