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Taking back drugs is giving life, especially now

2020 is a year like no other.

The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the significance of public health. Social distancing, masks, plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer and contactless pickups have become parts of our everyday lives, and the importance of flu vaccines has never been higher. While these help limit the spread of viruses, we as a nation still face an another epidemic that not only existed long before, but was exacerbated by COVID-19 – opioid abuse.

A myriad of data [1] exists to indicate that the coronavirus crisis has worsened substance abuse, including drug overdoses and deaths:

  • Overdose deaths increased by about 10% in the first three months of 2020, as compared with the same time period last year.
  • Since the pandemic began, more than 40 states recorded increases in opioid-related deaths, according to the American Medical Association.
  • In a June survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every eight U.S. adults surveyed said they had started or increased substance use to deal with the stress of COVID-19.

These statistics follow an alarming trend that existed pre-pandemic. “Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose 4.6% in 2019 to 70,980, including 50,042 involving opioids, reversing what had been a 4.1% decline between 2017 and 2018 — the first such decrease in decades.” [2]

Many of us have used the year’s slower pace as an opportunity to improve our lives, tackling everything from major home improvements to simply tidying up, and devoting efforts to getting healthier with more time to cook nutritious meals and exercise regularly. However, not everyone has been afforded such opportunities for improvement. Complete job losses, reduced employment, fewer social interactions and limited access to helpful services are all reasons for the deterioration in substance abuse statistics.

In March and April combined, the U.S. lost more than 22 million jobs – equivalent to the number of jobs added over the course of roughly the previous nine years. Only 7.5 million were added back by June. [3] Some further gains may be continuing, helped by the availability of seasonal work, but the overall pace has slowed – will it be enough?

Worryingly, this is beginning to impact our emotional state. Per a June CDC survey of U.S. adults, more than 40% are experiencing elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with the coronavirus pandemic. [4] Although some normalcy has resumed since the initial outbreaks, the risk of another bout of isolation is rising. As of this writing, cases are increasing in many states [5] and colder weather that will keep us indoors is fast upon us. Halloween will likely look different, and beyond, traditional holiday gatherings may also be virtual or curtailed, as some may not wish to travel or take part in large group settings. Compounding this situation, services for those in need of help with addiction have also been reduced. “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing, according to a new WHO survey.” [6]

All of these factors increase the risk that medication lying around the house could be misused. So, if you haven't yet cleaned out your medicine cabinet, the bottom of your purse (or if you're like me, the back of your car), now is the perfect time to do so because National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, October 24th.

Those of us who are able to go out safely have the chance to help defeat the opioid epidemic. This means saving lives and ultimately improving the quality of life for many. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a time when we can safely dispose of prescription drugs and keep them from becoming misused. In addition to prescriptions and controlled substances, we also have an opportunity to make a difference with proper disposal of over the counter drugs and supplements, keeping them from waste streams, animals and children. Many places that take back drugs – locate one here – also accept supplements. It’s a great way to dispose of very expired cold medicine bought in bulk (guilty), or those multivitamins that caused you some nausea. In the words of the DEA, "Don't be the dealer."

Sources:

[1] "America is still in the middle of an opioid epidemic. Why did we stop talking about it?” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/10/16/opioid-epidemic-coronavirus-isolation-support-struggle-column/3666992001/

[2] "The opioid crisis didn’t disappear amid the pandemic. It still calls for urgent action.” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-opioid-crisis-didnt-disappear-amid-the-pandemic-it-still-calls-for-urgent-action/2020/10/16/7df74fd0-0d7f-11eb-b1e8-16b59b92b36d_story.html

[3] "Going Sideways: A conversation with economist Anirban Basu, chairman & CEO, Sage Policy Group.” Leader’s edge, https://www.leadersedge.com/industry/going-sideways

[4] "Mental Health Worsens Among US Adults During COVID-19 Pandemic.” HCPLive, https://www.hcplive.com/view/mental-health-worsens-us-adults-covid-19-pandemic

[5] "Coronavirus Cases, Hospitalizations Are Increasing in Majority of States." U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2020-10-20/coronavirus-cases-hospitalizations-are-increasing-in-majority-of-states

[6] "COVID-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey.” World Health Organization News, https://www.who.int/news/item/05-10-2020-covid-19-disrupting-mental-health-services-in-most-countries-who-survey

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