Plus: Pandemic-induced liver disease and Australia’s hidden meth problems
By William Wagner
Fentanyl, it seems, is a permanent fixture in the news these days. The latest headline related to the synthetic opioid’s devastation comes from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fentanyl’s Grip Tightens
According to data released by the CDC last week, fentanyl was responsible for 64% of the single-year-record 100,000-plus deaths from May 2020 to April 2021. But that’s not all. The CDC also reported that between 2019 and 2020, fentanyl-related deaths increased dramatically in three regions of the U.S.: 33.1% in the Midwest, 64.7% in the South and 93.9% in the West. Complicating matters, according to the CDC, 40% of fentanyl-related fatalities now involve polydrug use (often cocaine or meth).
Urgent action is needed to slow and reverse rapid increases in drug overdose deaths involving IMFs [illicitly manufactured fentanyls] and other drugs.”—Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
The new numbers have set off alarm bells within the CDC. “Urgent action is needed to slow and reverse rapid increases in drug overdose deaths involving IMFs [illicitly manufactured fentanyls] and other drugs, including enhancing access to substance use disorder treatment (e.g., medications for opioid use disorder) and expanding harm reduction approaches that address risk factors associated with IMFs (e.g., improving and expanding distribution of naloxone to persons who use drugs and their friends and family, distributing fentanyl test strips to test drug products for fentanyl, and increasing overdose education and access to comprehensive syringe services programs),” reads the MMWR report. “Innovative approaches are needed to address the endemic nature of IMF-involved overdoses, noninjection routes of IMF use, and frequent polysubstance use, in particular, the rising use of opioids and stimulants.”
Bracing for a Spike in Liver Disease
The list of ills caused by the pandemic grows longer by the day. One, identified by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), relates to liver disease. A paper published in the journal Hepatology states that the 21% increase in excessive alcohol consumption during the first year of the pandemic could lead to 8,000 additional fatalities from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. The estimates obviously grow bleaker in instances of excessive drinking for longer than that first year.
With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, swift action must be taken, the researchers say. In a news release on the study, senior author Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, associate director of MGH’s Institute for Technology Assessment, said, “Our findings highlight the need for individuals and policymakers to make informed decisions to mitigate the impact of high-risk alcohol drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.”
From the University of Queensland:
Meth Use Underestimated in Australia
If it happened in Australia, could it be the case in the U.S., too? We don’t yet know, but here’s what’s going on Down Under: Meth use could be two to four times higher than public health officials originally thought. Investigators from the University of Queensland analyzed data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey to reach their conclusions.
One theory for the underestimate: “We found the degree of underreporting is strongly associated with the level of negativity towards methamphetamine use in a region,” the University of Queensland’s Gary Chan, PhD, said. “It’s also possible that prevention campaigns aimed to counter methamphetamine use may have caused people to be less likely to admit they have used the substance before.”