CDC Health Advisory Raises Concern on Worsening Opioid Epidemic Amid COVID-19

Provisional reporting out of the CDC this week now estimates more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the twelve months ending in May 2020. In response to these statistics, the CDC issued a Health Alert on Thursday citing the alarming rise in overdose deaths leading into and throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The issuance of a Health Alert serves to indicate the agency sees this as of significant importance and warrant immediate action.

The 81,000 deaths corresponds with an estimated 18% year-over-year increase with all but three states (Nevada, Utah and New Hampshire) trending upwards. According to CDC data, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are the main driver for overdose deaths rising nearly 40% from the previous year. Ten western states alone identified a 98% increase in synthetic opioid-related deaths over this time period. Data also demonstrates that overdose death rates for cocaine and psychostimulants are increasing at a rapid pace, rising 26.5% and 34.8% respectively.

As part of a comprehensive response to the rise on drug overdose deaths during the pandemic, the CDC offers several recommendations aimed at improving access to evidence-based interventions, particularly focused on demographics of greatest concern. These recommendations, which call on public health organizations, healthcare providers, harm reduction groups, and first responders includes:

  • Improve access and utilization to naloxone and wraparound education;
  • Expand access to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, including both opioids and stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine; and
  • Identifying and intervening with individuals deemed at highest risk.

Articles & Resources

CDC Newsroom – Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19

CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response – Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

CDC National Vital Statistics System – Provisional Drug Overdose Data

Purdue Pharma Leaders Testify in House Oversight Hearing

On Thursday, representatives from Purdue Pharma, including two members of the Sackler family, testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding the company’s role in the nation’s opioid crisis. The much-awaited hearing included remarks from Mr. David Sackler and Dr. Kathe Sackler, both former members of the Purdue Board of Directors, along with Dr. Craig Landau who has served as the manufacturers President and CEO since 2017.

Members from both sides of the aisle rebuked the witnesses for their brazen approach to the marketing of OxyContin and the role that product had in created an epidemic that has claimed more than half a million American lives in the last few decades. The hearing began with pre-recorded remarks from constituents who had been directly impacted by OxyContin.

While both Sacklers expressed their regret for the state of the nation’s epidemic, neither took responsibility for the company’s actions. Current CEO Craig Landau noted that the company took full responsibility for the crimes alleged as part of two separate settlements from 2007 and October of this year related to the prescribing and advertising practices for OxyContin.

Articles & Resources

House Committee on Oversight and Reform – The Role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family in the Opioid Epidemic

New York Times – Sacklers Face Furious Questions in Rare Testimony on Opioid Epidemic

Washington Post – Members of Family That Led Maker of OxyContin Deny Responsibility for Opioid Crisis in Congressional Hearing

NPR – Sacklers Deny Wrongdoing During House Panel Over Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Sales

Associated Press – Family Behind OxyContin Attests to its Role in Opioid Crisis

Reuters – Sacklers Apologize But Deflect Blame at U.S. Congressional Opioid Hearing

What We Read Last Week

Several articles were published last week pertaining to the opioid epidemic, covering a variety of different components of the issue. Links to relevant articles are provided below.

Articles & Resources

JAMA Psychiatry – The Healthy Brain and Child Development Study—Shedding Light on Opioid Exposure, COVID-19, and Health Disparities

JAMA Network Open – Comparison of Rates of Overdose and Hospitalization After Initiation of Medication for Opioid Use Disorder in the Inpatient vs Outpatient Setting

JAMA Internal Medicine – Eastern Kentucky’s Lost Generation and the Echoes That Remain—The Aftermath of the Opioid Epidemic

American Medical Association – Issue Brief: Reports of Increases in Opioid- and Other Drug-Related Overdose and Other Concerns During COVID Pandemic

American Medical Association – National Roadmap on State-Level Efforts to End the Nation’s Drug Overdose Epidemic: Leading-Edge Practices and Next Steps to Remove Barriers to Evidence-Based Patient Care

STAT News – Opioid Prescribing Has Dropped Dramatically Since 2011, But Experts Say There’s ‘More to Go’

IQVIA – Prescription Opioid Trends in the United States: Measuring and Understanding Progress in the Opioid Crisis

STAT News – Peer Recovery Programs Are An Integral Part of Addiction Treatment, Recovery

STAT News – Patrick Kennedy Pitches Himself for Biden Drug Czar

San Francisco Chronicle – Feds Seize 10 Pounds of Fentanyl in Tenderloin Trafficking Case, ‘Crime Family’ Accused

Law360 – DOJ Opioid Leader Flays Pharmacies in Enforcement Vow

POLITICO – ‘Morally Bankrupt’: Purdue Pharma Leaders Face Reckoning at Congressional Hearing

Forbes – Overdoses Are Increasing in the US Over COVID-19: Here’s What Addiction Experts Want You to Know

Washington Post – When the Coronavirus Pandemic Fades, Biden Will Confront a Resurgent Drug Epidemic

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – Measuring Success in Substance Use Grant Programs: Outcomes and Metrics for Improvement

SAMHSA Funding Opportunity Announcement – Building Communities of Recovery

SAMHSA Funding Opportunity Announcement – Tribal Opioid Response Grants

Department of Justice – Former Medical Director of Suboxone Manufacturer Indivior Sentenced in Connection with Drug Safety Claims

Department of Justice – Northern Alabama Doctor and Practice Manager Convicted for Conspiring to Unlawfully Distribute Opioids

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York – Buffalo Woman Sentenced For Conspiring With A Former Local Doctor To Illegally Distribute Controlled Substances

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington – Bartell Drug Chain Settles Allegations It Filled Invalid Prescriptions

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas – Darkweb Drug Trafficker Arrested in Operation DisrupTor Pleads Guilty

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia – Charlotte Doctor Sentenced to Prison Time for Conspiring to Distribute Prescription Opioids

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina – Federal Court Orders North Carolina Pharmacy, Pharmacy Owner, and Pharmacist-in-Charge to Pay More Than $1 Million and to Cease Dispensing Opioids or Other Controlled Substances

This Week’s Calendar

As the 116th Congress likely wraps this week, there are no relevant events or hearings noticed at this time. The duration of time spent in Washington DC by members will be focused on reaching an agreement around FY2021 funding and COVID-19 pandemic relief.

In the instance that there are any changes to the schedule for this week, we will make additional information available. We would like to take this moment to thank everyone for their readership over the past year and look forward to continued efforts to combat the opioid epidemic into 2021.

From the CEPOP team, we wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.

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