With synthetic opioids on the rise, researchers gathered for a conference on addiction received a grim update on the rising spread of street drugs laced with lethal synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.
The trend contributed to a crude increase in overdoses that left over 90,000 Americans dead over the 12 months ending in September 2020, as per the latest data.
“We have seen a very significant increase in mortality,” stated Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who spoke within an online gathering of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Volkow said people tend to be consuming Fentanyl “unbeknownst to them,” leading to a spike in overdose mortality.
According to preliminary figures issued earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic opioid deaths rose by an unprecedented 55% during the twelve months ending in September 2020. The CDC says overdose death information is reported following a roughly six-month lag due to the challenges of getting accurate information from jurisdictions across the nation.
Deaths from methamphetamines and other stimulants also increased by approximately 46 percent, an increase Volkow said is connected to fentanyl contamination. “It is rare to find individuals who only overdose on cocaine or who just overdose on methamphetamines,” she stated. “Fentanyl is used for lacing the illegal drug market since it’s enriching.”
In all, over 90,000 Americans died from overdoses in the most recent 12-month interval for which preliminary information is available. That compares to about 70,000 drug deaths during the same period a year earlier.
Since the CDC has updated its deadly overdose estimates during the pandemic, the upward trend has shown no indication of slowing. As recently as October, data indicated that the country was on track for at least 75,000 overdose mortalities in 2o2o.
That would have been a grim new record, but the most recent figures make it clear the toll will be much greater. Preliminary data for the entire year will not be accessible until mid-summer. Studies have also revealed a significant increase in the number of Americans using drugs or alcohol to deal with the pressures of the Coronavirus outbreak.
One group of CDC researchers found roughly 13 percent of people surveyed either started using drugs during the pandemic or extended their use of illegal substances.
On the other hand, drug abuse increases people’s dangers from the pandemic. Volkow advised the virtual gathering that individuals with substance use disorders are also at much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and often face more severe outcomes, such as death.
In part, those results reflect the fact that individuals struggling with addiction are inclined to be less healthy overall. But fear, stigma, and lack of access to care are also variables, based on Volkow.
She said individuals who use drugs are reluctant to seek medical care even when they contract the coronavirus. When they do ask for help, they frequently receive poor care from emergency departments.
“COVID-19 has made us knowledgeable how negative the stigmatization of substance use disorders has been over time,” Volkow said.
EU Is Struggling Stopping Synthetic Drugs
Europe struggles against the sharp increase in synthetic drug production as overall illegal trade nets at least 30 billion euros ($36 billion) annually, the EU judicial bureau Eurojust said.
At least one-third of trafficking cases related to Eurojust within the past five years involved synthetic substances like methamphetamine and other newer medications, the firm said in a new report.
Criminals have also increased their use of the “darknet” and encrypted communications to market synthetic drugs throughout the coronavirus pandemic as the world moves more online, The Hague-based firm said.
“Illicit drug trafficking across that the EU is generally growing strongly, with an estimated value of 30 billion euros,” Eurojust told in a statement following the report.
“The stark rise in the making of synthetic drugs… poses increasing difficulties for prosecutors across Europe.”
The number of criminal cases presented against cross-border trafficking in the European Union almost doubled between 2016 and 2020 to 562, with synthetics contributing one-third of these.
Criminals usually use legal loopholes concerning the chemical composition of synthetic drugs to make it tough to demonstrate they are selling something illicit, in a “barrier for prosecutions,” Eurojust stated.
“By rapidly changing the composition of substances used for these drugs… or producing new substances, manufacturers attempt to exploit legal gaps and avoid prosecution,” it added.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 had driven more drug sales online,” with organized crime groups adapting fast into an online environment, using secured communication channels, cryptocurrencies, crypto-phones, and market markets,” it stated.
The Eurojust report is known as harmonization between EU member states on legislation about creating and using these synthetic substances.
It also called for greater coordination on the prosecution of cybercrime, an increase in fiscal probes, the retrieval of criminals’ assets, and better cooperation with countries outside the EU.
Eurojust’s findings come a week later. The EU’s police bureau Europol said the continent was “in a breaking point” from an unprecedented flood of drugs, mainly cocaine.
Synthetic drugs have become a global problem in the last few years. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medicine, grabbed the world’s attention after it caused the deaths of a minimum of 13 people in one night in Canada in December 2016.
Canada Teams Up Together The U.S. To Stop Illegal Drugs
Both Canada and the U.S. are functioning hard to stop drug smugglers but have achieved little success thus far in preventing this drug from entering their countries illegally. With each passing day, the police confirm more fentanyl overdoses. As per official statistics, in 2020, in Canada’s British Columbia, the number of deaths caused by illegal drug use exceeded the amount of those who died from COVID-19.
Chief coroner of British Columbia Lisa Lapointe told that 2020 was the state’s deadliest year ever for drug overdoses. She stated that 1,716 people died because of illegal drug use, which equates to 4.7 deaths each day. The amount means a 74% increase in comparison to 2019.
According to the Canadian Ministry of Health, the total amount of individuals who died in British Columbia because of COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak is 1,269.
The chief coroner stated that overdose deaths exceeded automobile crashes, homicides, suicides, and prescription drug-related deaths combined annually.
More than 80 percent of deaths were caused by fentanyl, followed by methamphetamine and cocaine fatalities.
The ministry said 69 percent of deaths were between the ages of 30-59, while 81 percent were men.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain Medication, caught the world’s attention after it caused the deaths of at least 13 people in 1 night in Canada in December 2016.
The drug was found during medical Research in Belgium in the early 1950s and is proven to be 80 times more potent than morphine and 500 times more potent than meperidine. Fentanyl was first utilized in medical procedures at the beginning 1990s, nearly 40 years after its invention.
Though it is thought addictive, fentanyl is still produced in labs because of the legitimate medical uses. Doctors prescribe fentanyl for cancer patients with tolerance to other narcotics, and it’s also used as an anesthetic, which makes it a valuable medication.
Both Canada and the U.S. are working hard to prevent drug smugglers but have achieved little success thus far in preventing this medication from entering their countries illegally. With each passing day, the police confirm more fentanyl overdoses.
The Connection Between The Pandemic And Medication Use
We should warn you against assuming all greater drug use is directly related to COVID-19. By way of instance, changes in drug availability are also to blame for increased illegal opioid use deaths; if heroin is not simple to obtain, someone may take fentanyl, which is a lot stronger.
But experts agree, based on study and clinical observation, that pandemic-related breeds, from economic loneliness and stress to general anxiety about the virus, are a significant driver for the growth. “There’s a perfect storm of factors that we know increase drug use,” states William Stoops, Ph.D. People are more stressed and isolated to make unhealthy decisions, such as drinking more and taking medication.
As their anxiety increases, people may have fewer ways to handle it, which likely contributes to the uptick in substance abuse. By way of instance, resilience-promoting activities, like physical activity and social interactions, have not been as safe to participate in or easy to get, leading some people to begin using drugs or use them more frequently or in greater quantities.
There are also effective pandemic-related reasons for the increase in overdoses. Individuals are more likely to die when they’re using drugs alone since there’s no one there to call 911 or give naloxone, an opioid reversal means. For people living alone during the pandemic, this isolation presents a clear risk.
And in the first part of this pandemic, It was harder for individuals to seek the health care they needed for recovery from opioid use because some practices and community-based organizations diminished their services.
In March and April, Kentucky methadone clinics found an increase in patients’ end treatment and a decline in new patients beginning treatment. “Physicians have been focusing largely on COVID-19, and healthcare systems are overwhelmed, so individuals can not always get the care they need,” says Stoops. “There is also a stigma about substance use disorder that keep individuals from therapy, and even more so during a pandemic.”
A Change Toward Telemedicine
Fortunately, it’s become easier during the pandemic for people to get care for substance use disorders due to the greater availability of telemedicine for behavioral health issues. While the pandemic initially caused many community-based organizations and clinics to close their doors, telehealth options for physical and mental health issues have become increasingly accessible as insurance providers and organizations have recognized the requirement.
Additionally, it is becoming more common for community-based groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous to meet virtually. And many insurers, including Medicaid, have lifted previous telehealth limitations on therapy for behavioral health, including substance use disorder.
For example, doctors can now start patients on buprenorphine, a drug used for opioid healing, through telehealth without running an in-person exam. Opioid Treatment Program suppliers (at so-called “methadone clinics”) have also supplied patients with take-home methadone for maintenance more often during the pandemic. “Normally, you’ve got to be extraordinarily stable to take as many as 30 doses at one time to home, but they have relaxed a number of these requirements, so patients do not have to show up daily to an opioid treatment program.
Better access to telehealth means individuals with substance use issues may also seek out remote mental healthcare. Accessing treatment can be hard for people without reliable internet or telephone services. Clinicians are largely reporting more individuals showing up for psychotherapy appointments due to the rising use of telehealth.
One clear advantage of changes in treatment infrastructure throughout the pandemic is the access to telehealth might have helped some people who were on the fence about seeking help to seek that help.
What Psychologists Can Do To Help?
Psychologists are well-positioned to support patients dealing with substance use disorders. But how they help their patients is based upon the type of drug. For opioid use disorder, medications such as buprenorphine are an integral part of treatment.
Encouraging patients to seek medical therapy is the first step to preventing the long-term effect of opioid use, such as Infection. Concurrent psychological therapy can help people adhere to the medication schedule, identify and react in more healthy ways to stressors that have driven them to opioid use, and address associated conditions like pain, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.
It’s also essential for psychologists to advocate for the expanded availability of naloxone. In certain states, anyone can ask a drugstore to have on hand to treat a narcotic overdose in crises. We need greater awareness around the nation that this is something that can stop someone from dying.
There are no FDA-approved medications doctors may use to help patients recover from the use of stimulants, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. Still, there are various behavior-based interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), that psychologists can use to help. Some clinicians pair CBT with an approach called contingency management, which encourages abstinence by offering alternative reinforcers like gift vouchers or cards when patients show they haven’t used drugs.
Psychologists should also make a habit of asking each of their patients about any material use. We should encourage clinicians to not presume patients without SUD diagnosis are not misusing substances or at risk for abuse in the future. As stressors have continued and efficient coping skills are cut off, it is more likely that people turn to substances.
If a patient says they have been using, encourage clinicians to expand compassion, to help patients understand how compounding stressors could be influencing their substance use, and identify better ways to deal. Rather than assuming people want to stop using, psychologists should help patients to do a practical evaluation of the substance’s role in their lives.
It’s also essential to recognize that weekly outpatient appointments may not be adequate for every individual, particularly those with more free time on their hands throughout the pandemic. Psychologists should organize care with other providers as required, focusing on incorporating as much structure and assistance to their patients’ regularity as possible.
For instance, treat a patient with a SUD in an outpatient environment once per week, but the individual also participates in intensive outpatient care through another local supplier. Psychologists should also consider inviting patients to take part in virtual community support groups. There is no black-and-white approach to assisting patients struggling with substance use. It is about tailoring to what every individual needs and can afford.