National Consumers League

The overlooked epidemic: COVID-19 and its relationship to opioids

headshot of NCL Health Policy intern Talia

By NCL Health Policy intern Talia Zitner

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only major public health crisis plaguing America. As the country struggles to contain COVID-19, the pandemic has seen a corollary rise in incidents of opioid usage and overdose. A major disruption in the way people suffering from opioid addiction receive treatment may ultimately prove critical to understanding how the opioid epidemic is directly affected by the coronavirus.

When lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, opioid treatment centers were not eligible to receive any of the $50 billion in funding that was allocated for Medicare providers. As a result, these essential centers—often under-supported and understaffed—saw their workforce getting ill or leaving to care for loved ones. Additionally, job loss and illness have left those already at risk of opioid addiction more vulnerable to relapse and death.

A key problem is the patient’s ability to get a prescription for addiction-managing drugs. Many centers rightly offer only one pill a day to their patients, but as the pandemic has forced the need for physical distancing and lack of physical contact, it has become increasingly difficult for people to get their medication. Long lines and hours-long wait times dissuade patients from getting their daily dosage. Few patients qualify for more than one dose per day, and few doctors are authorized to prescribe larger amounts of opioid managing medication.

Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed the opioid epidemic that continues to haunt millions of Americans. During this difficult time, the government should focus on the risk of opioid abuse and overdose and put more money into treatment programs and centers. Without support, more people will succumb to opioid addiction, lack of access to treatment, and death, further burdening the health care system.

Talia is a Washington, DC native and a rising sophomore at Wesleyan University, where she is studying English. Beyond health policy, Talia’s interests are in journalism, law, and social justice.