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Rise in opioid deaths during the pandemic alarms health leaders

Posted at 6:31 AM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 07:32:58-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The opioid crisis has not slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, overdose deaths related to the use of opioids have increased locally and nationally.

"We've seen some similar trends to what's been happening nationally which is about a 30% increase in opiate overdose deaths," Dr. Jeff Foster, a Saint Luke's interventional pain medicine physician said. "In Missouri, there's been about a 30% increase in overdose deaths during the pandemic and here locally in the KC metro, it's been about 15% increase in overdose deaths."

Foster explained that there are a number of factors that have contributed to the rise in opioid deaths, including synthetic drugs.

"This is something that unfortunately some people turn to illicit street drug use when they're addicted to medications and these synthetic drugs on the street are much more high risk for overdose," Foster said.

However, he also said that mental health issues from the lack of inactivity during the pandemic also have played a factor in the rise.

"But other factors are contributing here as well. During the pandemic, people are more sedentary, not getting out as much as they used to. So those downstream effects can contribute to chronic pain as well as some of the other things that contribute to chronic pain, which include obesity, mental health issues like depression and anxiety and just relative inactivity."

There's been movement on the issue in Missouri recently.

Missouri signed Senate Bill 63, with Gov. Mike Parson signing as well to allow Missouri to implement a statewide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

"It is a safety mechanism for us to monitor the drug prescriptions for those controlled substances that are deemed somewhat dangerous or higher risk," Foster said. "This is really important for patient safety and the efficacy of their treatments as well. What this does is, it's a centralized resource that can be referenced by all all medical providers to monitor what medications are being prescribed, how often, what dose and from where so that the best coordination of care can be achieved."

Saint Luke's is charting a path forward with alternative pain management, offering a wide variety of resources and options to avoid prescribing addictive medications.

"We usually start with collaborating with physical therapy, as we know that function and rehabilitative services are often times the bedrock of treating pain, but we also work closely with psychiatry and pain psychology to treat the mental health issues that can come along with and contribute to our chronic pain issues," Foster said. "We also consult and make recommendations for medications both opiate and non opiate. We have a variety of treatments for various types of pains. Depending on the cause, we might offer a different type of treatment that would be a different type of procedure for a certain patient. Most commonly what we're seeing is low back pain or sciatica, neck and arm pain, usually from disc herniations and disc bulges. Often times, injections like epidurals or minimally invasive treatments for spinal stenosis are available for our patients."

"Many of our patients develop arthritis in the neck and in the back, and we have treatments for that, including radio-frequency ablation or joint injections," Foster said. "Sometimes people have muscle pain and we treat those with different types of injections as well. There are those that developed severe nerve pains that can be related to a number of different pathologies and we can treat those with either nerve blocks at the source of their pain, or even treating those with different types of stimulator devices, either in the nerves or in the spinal cord."