1. Baird, Carolyn DNP, MBA, RN-BC, CARN-AP, CAADC, FIAAN

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It is impossible to access any media (social, print, television, internet, etc.) without getting overwhelmed with COVID-19 updates. For 20 years before this, it was opioids that turned the world upside down, first as prescription drugs, and then opioids, heroin, and fentanyl. A toxic illegal drug supply is fueling a protracted overdose epidemic in North America. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. In a very short period, it was apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic would intersect to produce a public health crisis-one that would have a disproportionate effect on individuals least able to protect themselves, including those who use drugs.


Risk factors of isolation, cuts to treatment, closing of social support programs, and loss of access to the illicit drug supply make overdoses and deaths a greater reality. With COVID-19 being a highly contagious airborne virus, responses to reduce the risk of viral spread resulted in social isolation, alterations in treatment administration, cuts to social support programming, and loss of access to licit and illicit drug supplies. It was determined that one way to reduce overdose deaths within the COVID-19 pandemic was a safer, more effective manner of distributing drugs and medications.


The following three articles are a sampling of research studies published in peer-reviewed journals that can be accessed at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) free of charge. This is a credible source intended for clinicians, educators, and researchers.


Chandler, R. K., Villani, J., Clarke, T., McCance-Katz, E. F., & Volkow, N. D. (2020). Addressing opioid overdose deaths: The vision for the HEALing communities study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 217, 108329.


Tyndall M. (2020). Safer opioid distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Journal on Drug Policy, 83, 102880.


Slavova, S., Rock, P., Bush, H. M., Quesinberry, D., & Walsh, S. L. (2020). Signal of increased opioid overdose during COVID-19 from emergency medical services data. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 214, 108176.


There was concern before COVID-19. The NIH and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration launched the HEALing Communities Study as part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative in May 2019. An ambitious implementation study with the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40% by 2022, the researchers are now using the vision, goals, and objectives of this initiative to generate knowledge about the intersection of the unrelenting epidemic of opioid misuse and heightened risk of opioid overdose from social isolation, economic distress, and disrupted treatment services delivery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Emergency medical services (EMS) in Kentucky decided to use data from their daily runs for opioid overdoses between January 14, 2020, and April 26, 2020. They measured statistical significance increases or decreases for opioid-overdose-related trips for 52 days before and after the COVID-19-related state emergency declaration. EMS found that trips for other conditions leveled or declined, but opioid overdose runs with transportation to an emergency department increased by 17%, runs where transportation was refused increased by 71%, and runs for suspected death on scene from an overdose increased by 50%. Although a Kentucky-specific study, it provided an impetus for concern over the intersection of the opioid overdose epidemic and the rising COVID-19 pandemic. There are calls for sharing observations and analyses from different regions and linking surveillance systems that have timely data collection (e.g., EMS data, syndromic surveillance data for emergency department visits), with the goal of gaining an understanding of the situation to inform proactive response and prevent another public health crisis of opioid overdoses in our communities.


The states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia make up the Ohio Valley region. These states have partnered with the seven public media outlets within the region and, with the assistance of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, have formed the ReSource. The goal is to strengthen news coverage in the Ohio Valley.


The eight journalists that compose the ReSource team use data, radio, and video to craft their coverage of the important issues. In this example, they are discussing the Kentucky EMS study, but other stories cover human stories about the region's economy, infrastructure, food, health, environment, and energy. This is a credible source for understanding the changes to the traditional economic base as it is intertwined with cultural and social challenges. It is current to 2021 and speaks with accuracy, objectivity, and authority. Check it out to see and compare how another source presents the same data.


Many of the top links in search engine returns will be ads. There is no need to access them. Another set will be sources similar to the ones below reflecting what the popular digital or print news is reporting.


Sources like print or digital news media above may have factual information but are also about attracting readers and advertisers. They cannot be considered a credible source as there is no way to be sure of the accuracy. The authors or reporters may be unidentified. There is no way to fact-check. The objectivity will be based on the philosophy of the publisher and the opinions of the reporters or authors. You may need to pay for your content. Keep an open mind.


Kuehn, B. M. (2021). Accelerated overdose deaths linked with COVID-19. Journal of the American Medical Association, 325(6), 523. 10.1001/jama.2021.0074


Frequently peer-reviewed journals will make highlight articles online. They can be considered credible and offer current, accurate, and objective information. In the above example, we are looking at the sign in page of the journal. Very little of the actual article is there-just enough to be a "teaser." You will need to be a member or pay to download the pdf of the article to have full access.


It would be better to access a primary source of information you are finding. The Journal of the American Medical Association article is using data presented on this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. It is free, accurate, current, and objective.


Niles, J. K., Gudin, J., Radcliff, J., & Kaufman, H. W. (2021). The opioid epidemic within the COVID-19 Pandemic: Drug testing in 2020. Population Health Management, 24, S43-S51.


Sometimes, a publisher will decide to highlight a digital copy of one of the articles in an issue of a peer-reviewed journal before the issue is released in print format. An online publication is just as credible as the print version, may be more easily accessed, and speak with the same accuracy, objectivity, and authority. The page contains disclosure that authors worked with Quest Laboratories to obtain the data. This article contains many tables that are easy to understand, compare, and contrast. If you like to have data presented in tables, this might be an important website and journal for you.


Trust for America's Health is a nonpartisan public health advocacy organization that envisions a nation that values the health and well-being of all Americans. Policy making is built on the foundation of research and health equity. This is a credible source for looking at facts associated with the intersection of COVID-19 and opioid overdoses. It speaks with authority, objectivity, and accuracy. There is no cost for accessing the information. The site includes contact information, as well as links to all social media, and is up to date for 2021. This is a good source for health-related information for all levels of society.


Last but not least of potential resources for understanding the issue of COVID-19 and the increasing overdose deaths is the Indian Health Services, which is a federal health programming for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The federal government supports the authority, accuracy, and objectivity of this site. There is no cost to access the information. It is current, includes all social media links and contact information, can be searched, and can be translated to many languages.


You are encouraged to check out at least one of these links to test your knowledge on this growing public health crisis.