BRAZOS VALLEY, TX — Established in 2018, the Texas A&M Opioid Task Force serves as a focal point for research, education, and practice issues critical to addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic.
According to their official website, every day in the United States, more than 130 Americans are dying from an opioid overdose.
Alongside this, it's reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) that more than 81,000 deaths occurred from drug overdoses here in the United States between June 2019 to May 2020; the largest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded for a 12-month period in the nation.
25 News KRHD reached out to A&M's Opioid Task Force, looking for answers, and resolutions for the Brazos Valley community.
"Events that would usually go along with that (opioid addiction), so psycho-social treatments, the group therapy, the interpersonal therapy, talking with a psychologist, talking with a counselor... all that stuff went away." shared Dr. Joy Alonzo with Texas A&M College of Pharmacy, expressing how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted treatments available for patients.
Extending this note, Dr. Marcia Ory with the Texas A&M Center for Population Health & Aging had the following to share.
"What COVID has done, is amplify every problem that we had. It's amplified the opioid usage of this problem and their overdoses, it's amplified the fact we have a very fragmented mental health system. People weren't getting great service before and now, things are even worse." said Dr. Ory.
Both respected professors are part of the A&M Opioid Task Force.
In recent publications, Dr. Ory has noted that physical distancing, alongside the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic like COVID-19, is "not surprising" to have lead to a convergence of two public health crises in the country.
“People are isolated due to the pandemic and are not engaging in treatment online. Not everyone has Wi-Fi, a computer or phone to access telehealth,” shared Dr. Alonzo. “If you are alone and have no access to your support network, you are at much greater risk of relapse, and if you start to use alone, you are at greater risk of an overdose.”
So what can one do to help?
According to their publication, Dr. Alonzo suggests people learning how to recognize adverse patterns of behavior, seeking evidence-based screening techniques, and referring to the appropriate treatment resources. Stating, these cases will require medical intervention, not a punitive one.
“It is critically important for anyone in the health care field to reach out to those who may be at risk for or suffering from substance use disorder, including OUD,” Dr. Alonzo said in the publication. “All the issues regarding mental and behavioral health have been amplified during the pandemic, and it will take everyone in health care to increase access to care for those affected.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from opioid addiction, you are encouraged to call the 24/7 National Drug Helpline by dialing1-844-289-0879 or 9-1-1 for any emergency medical issues.