Just as the first cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) made their way into New York City in March, I wrote about efforts made by dental insurers and medical carriers to address the opioid epidemic in our country. The COVID-19 pandemic started tearing its way through the world soon after. Flash forward to summer, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported nearly 71,000 American drug overdose deaths in 2019 according to preliminary data – a new record that predates the COVID-19 crisis and was primarily driven by fentanyl, other synthetic opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine.


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Viewpoints from Briana Loff

The news was disappointing, to say the least – 2018 overdose numbers had dipped for the first time in over three decades after the huge push to end the opioid epidemic in recent years. And while the 2019 numbers have dashed those hopes, there’s more cause for concern over the inevitable effect COVID-19 will have on the epidemic. With more people isolated, unemployed and emotionally distressed, there is far greater potential for substance abuse. Add that to the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused treatment centers and outpatient programs/resources, now running on limited staff, and you have the perfect storm. Luckily some government restrictions have begun to ease on buprenorphine and methadone programs. Both medicines have backed evidence that shows they help people stay in recovery.

Craig Hasday shared his viewpoints on what mental health and substance abuse claims will look like in the coming year. Alongside the mental health component of recovery, users will need access to outpatient programs to remain consistent with their treatment plans. They also need constant support from medical professionals, nurses, and support groups – many of which can be addressed if medical carriers establish more comprehensive programs. Accountability and consistency are key for helping recovering addicts remain on track, even more so with the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the stress it has caused so many. Unless a major shift happens on the carrier end, we can expect to see the overdose death toll rise. As if the body count and strain on our healthcare system from coronavirus aren’t already enough to handle.


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Briana Loff

Account Manager, Employee Benefits – New York, NY