“The coronavirus pandemic is, unfortunately, expected to worsen the opioid overdose crisis,” says Barbara Andraka-Christou, an assistant professor of health management and informatics at the University of Central Florida.
“Many individuals are experiencing triggers, such as family- or job-related stress, that may lead them to relapse,” she says. “Many people are losing their jobs and the funds necessary to pay for lifesaving health care. Those of us working in public health research are very worried.”
Indeed, evidence is already emerging that overdoses are up in the first half of the year, based on preliminary reports.
But Andraka-Christou also sees a “silver lining” to the pandemic, as federal and state officials have temporarily relaxed some of the strict regulations governing the medical treatment of opioid addiction.
It comes back to this moral perception that drug use is a choice. And certainly the first time, it often is. But to develop a disorder where you’re compulsively using something with horrible consequences? At a certain point, it’s no longer a choice. But given society’s limited resources, many don’t want to apply those resources to people who are just “making a bad decision.” You want to apply them towards the uninitiated, the ones who haven’t taken that first step of getting a pill prescription.
But it’s ironic, because on the treatment side, the tools are already there. We actually know what works. It’s really well established.
There’s a lot of negativity that exists with respect to methadone and buprenorphine. Which is wildly problematic, when you think that another article just came out showing that buprenorphine and methadone are absolutely the best at preventing opioid overdose and opioid relapse as compared to a variety of other treatments, including naltrexone, including residential treatment, including outpatient treatment, including detox.
This book isn’t some shocking new innovation. I’m not saying ‘Wow, we just discovered that these medications are great!’ It’s the complete opposite. We’ve known for decades that these are the most effective treatments.
Andraka-Christou has spent years studying those regulations, and in her new book she explains how they prevent patients with opioid use disorder from accessing effective, life-saving medications such as buprenorphine and methadone. NPR recently spoke with Andraka-Christou about her book, The Opioid Fix: America’s Addiction Crisis and the Solution They Don’t Want You to Have.