As the long-term repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to emerge, two of the longest lasting might be opioid misuse and mental health issues.
While one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year, almost half of Americans – 47% – reported in March of this year that their mental health was negatively impacted by stress and worry from the pandemic.1
At the same time, deaths from opioid overdoses reached a record high of 92,000 for the 12-month period ending in October 2020, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Two issues, often intertwined
About half of people who experience a substance use disorder in their lives struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition, and vice versa. The reasons are varied. For example, some people self-medicate if they don’t have access to the medical help and prescriptions they need, while others develop mental health issues as a result of their opioid use disorder.
The stress, isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic all drove the increase in opioid use, experts say. In June 2020 – still early in the pandemic – the CDC found that 13% of Americans reported they had turned to or increased their substance use as a way to cope.
How to help
Although we are moving toward a greater sense of normalcy, people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues will continue to need support. This will require a focused, coordinated effort that helps recognize, treat and support mental health conditions while also focusing on driving change in our nation’s opioid epidemic.
In addition to addressing the needs of those who are addicted to opioids, plan sponsors can act proactively by leveraging programs that provide predictive models for the progression of anxiety, depression and insomnia and offer an array of individualized support that can be accessed how and when their members prefer. When members have a medical need for a new opioid prescription, sponsors can take steps to minimize their risk of misuse by limiting the initial supply, providing education and resources to dispose of excess pills, and reaching out to prescribers about issues such as worrisome drug interactions and potential therapy duplications.
Faced alone, these challenges are daunting; with greater support and the proper tools, people struggling with substance abuse and mental health conditions can be on track to a brighter future.
1 https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/mental-health-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/, March 2021