As COVID-19 rages, we cannot forget our home-grown pandemic


As COVID-19 rages, we cannot forget our home-grown pandemic | Opinion

Elaine Pozycki
Special to the USA TODAY NETWORK

As we must continue to work on all fronts to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already taken more than 130,000 lives, we must redouble our efforts to curb our very own domestic pandemic, Opioid Use Disorder, which continues to take nearly 50,000 lives annually. 

The increased stress and anxiety stemming from COVID-19 — a fuel for dependence on opioids -— is already increasing instances of Opioid Use Disorder around the nation. Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care estimate an additional 75,000 people could die from deaths of despair, including opioid overdoses, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic impact.The White House Drug Policy Office reports an 11% increase in overdoses over the first four months of this year and the impacts of the Covid Pandemic were only felt for about half of this time period.

Another factor likely to spur opioid dependence unless we take action is that more opioid prescriptions are going to be written due to a big increase in the number of upcoming elective surgeries, now that the delays in these operations, due to the pandemic, are beginning to lift. 

One can become dependent on opioid-based pain relievers in as little as 5 days and there are still more than 150 million prescriptions handed-out for these highly addictive drugs annually. Prescription opioids have the same underlying ingredient as dangerous recreational drugs, and many people who become addicted to prescription opioids end up graduating to what are referred to as “black market opioids,” such as heroin and fentanyl.


To curb this epidemic, we must arm all patients and parents with real-time information at the time it is most needed, which is at the point of prescription.  In too many cases, this potentially life-saving knowledge is not provided. A national survey done by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation confirms what I have learned from talking with other parents, who, like me, have lost a child to this epidemic: that six in ten doctors prescribe opioid painkillers without telling patients that they can be addictive.

My son, Steven, became dependent on opioid-based pain relievers after they were prescribed to treat a sports injury. Had I just been told about the addictive qualities of the medicines Steven was prescribed, I would have known to look for alternatives, or been able to identify the signs and symptoms of abuse and get him help.

OxyContin, an often-prescribed opioid.

To ensure that more families don’t have to experience the pain my family, and so many others, have had to endure, we’ve developed and are working to advance common-sense legislation, requiring a conversation about the risks of dependency and where appropriate, the use of a non-opioid pain relief alternative before an opioid-based pain reliever is prescribed, Versions of this Patient Opioid Notification Law have now passed in 18 states — Florida most recently. 

There is strong evidence of the law’s effectiveness. A recent Brandeis University Study of the law’s impact in New Jersey, the first state to implement the law, found that the number of patients prescribed opioids for acute pain significantly decreased after the law went into effect. In the month after the law was implemented, nearly 5,000 fewer patients were started on opioids

There was also a fourfold increase in the percentage of doctors warning patients of the risks of  addiction. Prior to enactment, only 18% of the participants warned patients about the risk of opioid addiction when prescribing opioids.  After enactment, 95% routinely warned patients about the risk of addiction.

Elaine Pozycki

Every American has the right to be warned about the highly addictive qualities of opioids — and that there are effective non-opioid pain relief alternatives-and to receive this warning at the time it is most needed--right before an opioid is prescribed. Rep. David Trone, D-Maryland and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, will soon introduce national legislation designed to provide incentives for every state in the nation to adopt this proven prevention measure. It is time to bring this lifesaving information to all Americans.

Elaine Pozycki is the Founder of Prevent Opioid Abuse, a national organization working to educate patients and parents about the risks of opioid-based pain relievers and the availability of non-opioid alternatives, and the Co-Chair of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.