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Anti-Drunk Driving Tech Coming to Vehicles, Overdose Numbers Hit New Record Amid COVID, and the DEA Interferes with Addiction Medicine Dispersal
Here is a recap of some of the top industry-related news stories of the week:
USA: New anti-drunk driving tech for cars coming soon
The US Congress has mandated automakers to create solutions that help address drunk driving. While the Transportation Department has yet to create a solution to the problem, there is a technology already in existence that may help.
The technology would require convicted drunk drivers to blow into a breathalyzer that is connected to the ignition interlock of a vehicle. If there is alcohol detected, the car will fail to start. This technology is expected to be rolled out across all cars on sale in the American market by 2026.
Although this may have some results, the solution isn’t regarded to be feasible for the long term, as users would have to use the device every time they want to start the car. Instead, other options are being explored, including the use of infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. The technology will look or signs of intoxication and, when detected, trigger hazard lights and force the driver to pull over.
Overdose Deaths Reached Record High as the Pandemic Spread
Since the pandemic hit America, people have died from overdose in record numbers. This is largely a result of loss of access to treatment, rising mental health problems, and wider availability of dangerously potent street drugs. In the 12-month period before April 2021, over 100,000 Americans died from overdose, an increase of 30% from the year prior. These numbers are more than the fatality rates for car crashes and gun fatalities combined. Overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2015.
“These are numbers we have never seen before,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The fatalities have lasting repercussions, since most of them occurred among people aged 25 to 55, in the prime of life (…) They leave behind friends, family and children, if they have children, so there are a lot of downstream consequences (…) This is a major challenge to our society.”
This increase in overdose deaths is largely attributable to fentanyl, however, the use of stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and natural and semi-synthetic opioids also increased during this time.
Lockdowns and their effect on social lives, rise in mental health disorders, and postponement of treatment are part of the situation.
About 70% of these deaths were among men between the ages of 25 and 54.
Some states felt the effect worse than others: Increases of overdose rates that exceeded 50% from the previous year were recorded in California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Vermont.
There is a call for funding to help treatment and response efforts, including universal access to treatment, and for treatment centers in every county that offer same-day access.
“If you really want to see deaths comes down, you have to make it much easier for someone who is addicted to opioids to access treatment, particularly with buprenorphine,” Dr. Kolodny said. “It has to be easier to get treatment than to buy a bag of dope.”
DEA takes aggressive stance toward pharmacies trying to dispense addiction medicine
The DEA is taking an aggressive stance against buprenorphine, a controlled substance sold under the brand names Subutex and Suboxone. It is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder with huge success rates; research shows it halves the risk of overdose and doubles people's chances of entering long-term recovery.
The issue is that the medication is an opioid itself with the potential to be misused. The DEA is working to ensure the drug does not end up in the streets. Critics are claiming that is it making the opioid crisis worse by scaring pharmacies away from dispensing this medication when it's desperately needed.
As drug overdoses soar, less than 20% of people with SUD that use opioids receive buprenorphine. As little as 1 in 5 pharmacies provide the drug.
This is felt more severely in rural areas, where the consequences of not having access to the treatment is compounded by the lacking addiction treatment providers, lack of transportation, and stigma against these medications.
Studies are showing that buprenorphine misuse has decreased in recent years and many people who use the drug do so to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Other research in North Carolina and Kentucky found many pharmacists worry the DEA will investigate their pharmacy if they order more buprenorphine. The DEA does not specify thresholds for controlled substances, but it requires wholesalers to flag suspicious orders. Wholesalers then limit how much a pharmacy can buy or create algorithms to detect orders that exceed projected need.
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