Elinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
HHS Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use
As one pandemic grips the nation’s focus and attention, the already existing scourge of opioid addiction continues to impact millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the existence of one crisis, albeit overshadowing, does not eliminate the existence of another. The crises exist concurrently, and we must not lose sight of the pain and damage caused by any public health crisis facing our nation.
An epidemic persists
The burden that the COVID-19 response has placed on our people takes a tremendous toll on individuals, families, and communities. The stresses of what was everyday life have been far outdistanced by the stressors of today’s life. For many, COVID-19 has meant isolation, loneliness, fear, anxiety, financial stress, and unemployment. The promise of opioids to ease these burdens tempts many. We must remind Americans that opioid misuse can potentially lead to lifelong, damaging health consequences, including death. Turning to opioid misuse is not an answer.
Help is available
For those Americans struggling with opioid-use disorder, we must continue to promote the use of FDA-approved medications that are an essential and effective component of treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has put unprecedented resources into making these lifesaving treatments widely available in all American communities. Access to these medications, and the psychosocial and community recovery services that accompany them, has been a major priority of the administration. The current pandemic has not changed that focus.
We must also do all we can to ensure Americans everywhere know that a life lost to substance use and overdose is just as important as one lost to the coronavirus. Just as a first responder would not hesitate to administer lifesaving CPR to someone who has suffered a heart attack, a first responder must not fear administering lifesaving naloxone – the opioid-overdose antidote – to an individual experiencing an opioid overdose. The struggle for millions of Americans is quite serious, but the good news is that help is available. It is available to those seeking treatment, and it is available to those who may experience overdose. We must take collective action to ensure our loved ones make use of available resources. These resources can and will save lives.