We had one specialty, only one, where during the pandemic, even at its height, visits went up. It was our addiction services. It’s the epidemic within the pandemic.”
Cooper Co-CEO Anthony Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE
As of Oct. 31, 2020, all but nine U.S. states had reported increases in opioid-related mortality, according to the American Medical Association. In provisional CDC data, the number of overdose deaths recorded between January and March of this year totaled 19,416 — almost 3,000 more than in the same quarter last year.”
Opiate use disorder (OUD), like other medical illnesses, has not disappeared during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery has become more challenging for many as health care resources are focused elsewhere. Emergency medical services (EMS) is always on the front lines serving a disproportionate number of our most vulnerable, underserved, and isolated patients, which characterizes so many with this illness.
As the article from MedPageToday reports about the nation broadly, New Jersey has also seen an increase in suspected opiate deaths of up to 28% during the early months of the pandemic. I presume that this is due to increased financial hardship, social isolation, decreased access to care, and an interruption in the types of illegal opiates available.
At Cooper we strive to maintain critical services to our existing substance use patients, and to continue to reach out to those not yet in treatment. During the pandemic, we have maintained our inpatient addiction service, outpatient in-person and telehealth visits, and emergency department buprenorphine bridge program. Buprenorphine is a well-established treatment for opiate use disorder with strong scientific data showing that the treatment saves lives, and can break the downward cycle of withdrawal, use, and overdose.
Cooper paramedics can administer buprenorphine after saving a patient from an opiate overdose and then arrange a next-day appointment at The Cooper Center for Healing, establishing a path to long-term recovery. Cooper EMS, the first in the nation to launch a buprenorphine rescue program, has saved the lives of more than 100 patients in this way. Additionally, patients with OUD are able to access care through our walk-in clinic. [Editor’s note: Additional coverage here and here].
During these challenging times, please reach out to at-risk populations, and encourage friends and family to seek treatment. At Cooper, we are ready to help.
Gerard Carroll, MD, FAAEM, FAEMS, EMT-P
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
EMS Fellowship Director
Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
Medical Director, Division of EMS and Disaster Medicine
Department of Emergency Medicine
Cooper University Health Care