AMA Wants to Change Common Treatment Barriers as Illicit Drug Overdoses Continue to Rise

Some high-risk groups of people, such as frontline workers, those with health conditions, and children may face mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While COVID-19 is a dangerous illness on its own, the pandemic is negatively impacting the United States in a variety of other ways. On top of those who have contracted the virus and are dealing with its life-threatening symptoms, many Americans struggle with mental health concerns as they juggle income woes, joblessness, general uncertainty and fear. Now, another problem is compounding the situation: rising opioid overdose rates.

Some point toward the isolation of quarantine and mental health concerns as reasons for the many recent relapses and unintentional overdoses on fentanyl-laced drugs. The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) analyzes counties’ overdose data throughout the country. Of the participating counties in ODMAP, nearly 62% reported higher drug overdose rates than data gathered before March 19, 2020. The frequency and duration of overdose spikes have also increased nationally.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has taken notice, and the organization recently released a documentoutlining the current issues and potential ways to fix them. In it, the AMA explains that states must take action by creating more flexibility for opioid addiction treatment and harm reduction.

What the AMA Proposes

In a supplementary document, the AMA provides an in-depth overview of specific steps states should take to prevent additional overdoses and related deaths. This includes:

  • Ensuring people with opioid use disorders can receive access to care: This can be done by increasing medication-assisted treatment through drugs like buprenorphine and allowing patients to receive prescriptions via telemedicine when possible.
  • Protecting patients with opioid prescriptions: Reducing restrictions on refills and waiving in-person evaluations allows people to continue receiving the pain relief they need. This could prevent individuals from turning to illicit drugs for pain management.
  • Bolstering harm prevention services: Services like needle exchange programs, fentanyl test kits and naloxone distribution help prevent people with addiction from overdosing and contracting diseases caused by sharing needles.

The Opioid Crisis: Not a New Epidemic

The opioid crisis has been an issue for decades now. Out of more than 67,000 Americans who died from a drug overdose in 2018, around 70% involved an opioid. However, the overdose rate decreased by 4% from 2017 to 2018, which may be partly due to the AMA’s efforts.

According to the organization, there has been a 37.1% decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions from 2014 to 2019. Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, had more than one million prescriptions in 2019 — a vast increase from around 6,500 in 2015. More than 85,000 health care providers are now able to prescribe buprenorphine, and hundreds of thousands have received training in treating substance use disorders.

These are steps that help increase access to addiction treatment and effective pain relief while also ensuring that people who do not need opioids do not receive them. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid epidemic converging, the AMA is still working to ensure that people remain safe when taking drugs — prescription or otherwise.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health symptoms and substance abuse as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, The Recovery Village provides services that can help you to overcome your situation. We even offer teletherapy, inpatient and outpatient options to keep you safe during the pandemic. Contact us today to begin your recovery journey. 


Mann, Brian. “U.S. Sees Deadly Drug Overdose Spike During Pandemic.” NPR, August 13, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.

Alter, Aliese; et al. “COVID-19 Impact on US National Overdose Crisis.” ODMAP, June 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.

American Medical Association. “Issue brief: Reports of increases in opi[…]ring COVID pandemic.” August 14, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.

American Medical Association. “COVID-19 policy recommendations for OUD,[…]ain, harm reduction.” August 14, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Opioid Overdose.” May 5, 2020.

Accessed August 19, 2020.American Medical Association. “Physicians’ progress toward ending the[…] and death epidemic.” 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.