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It Is Wrong To Place Fighting The Virus Over Other Health Needs

It’s important to deal aggressively with COVID-19 both to tamp down outbreaks of the virus and to restore some semblence of normalcy to society.

For those who point to the wonderful utopia that could be created by a “new normal” we point to a story we ran last week. After a few years of declining drug overdoses, the county’s overdose rate is on the upswing again, from 20 a month in 2019 to 29 a month through July. Fentanyl is a problem as is heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol.

“People dealing with alcohol has skyrocketed. We’ve also noticed some folks we work with who initially had issues with drugs like heroin or methamphetamine, who have switched back to alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption has started, especially since COVID-19,” Steve Cobb, Mental Health Association of Chautauqua County executive director, told our Dennis Phillips.

The American Medical Association is asking governors to allow evaluation and prescribing via telemedicine, remove prior authorizations, step therapy and administrative barriers for medications used to treat opioid abuse disorders; remove existing barriers for patients with pain to get medications; and enact, implement and support barriers to sterile needly and syringe programs.

Those are all worthy recommendations, but it’s also important to realize that isolation and the changes wrought by COVID-19 are partly behind this increase. One way people deal with unemployment — a big problem during the pandemic — is drug and alcohol abuse. One way people deal with loneliness — another pandemic problem — is drugs and alcohol.

One argument against a future in which we are more isolated is what we are seeing with addiction right now. Our decision makers must take into account that their isolation and distancing orders have ramifications beyond simply keeping COVID-19 at bay. Too much isolation is making our previously growing addiction issue worse than it already was.

Just as it is the wrong course to place fighting COVID-19 above the financial health and wellbeing of businesses and the families who depend on them, it is wrong to place fighting COVID-19 above other health needs. And right now, politicians’ laser focus on COVID-19 is blinding them to the effect their decisions have on longer-standing public health crises in our communities.

There have been 10 deaths in Chautauqua County from COVID-19. Were it not for Narcan, addiction would kill nearly three times as many each month.

What should our priority be?

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