Coalition of Organizations Sound the Alarm About Surge in Overdose Deaths

Courtney Gallo Hunter, VP, State Policy

Access to evidence-based treatment for behavioral healthcare continues to be a significant challenge, and this lack of care is one of the many reasons why overdoses are rising in many states.

A bill in California, SB 855, would help address this. The bill eliminates barriers to access for care by mandating insurance cover treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) at the same level they cover treatment for physical conditions.  

Along with many national and California-based organizations focused on solving the SUD and mental health crises, Shatterproof has issued a letter to the California State Assembly alerting them to the significant rise in COVID-related drug overdose deaths. 

Here's the text of the letter we sent.

On behalf of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization, and the list of organizations below, I write to express our concern regarding the surge of overdose deaths in California. As outlined in the recent New York Times article “In Shadow of Pandemic, U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Resurge to Record”, the alarming uptick in overdoses requires immediate action.

Approximately 22 million Americans have a substance use disorder, of which approximately four million are addicted to opioids. The toll on our families is staggering. Prior to COVID-19, few Americans received evidence-based addiction treatment. In fact, only 1 in 10 receives any treatment at all.

In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, those struggling with addiction are being met with unprecedented isolation. We are starting to see the dire consequences for both patients and the addiction treatment system. Disruptions to treatment plans have increased the risk of relapse and overdose among patients. Necessary coronavirus containment measures, like physical distancing and closures of public spaces, are making it harder for people with substance use disorders to seek help, keep up their treatment regimen, or access social supports. COVID-19 dramatically reduces the

ability of addiction treatment providers to deliver care in-person. While the country has relaxed restrictions around access to telemedicine and medications like methadone and buprenorphine, those with addiction still have tremendous difficulty accessing care. Using drugs in isolation also puts many at risk for overdose, without anyone to call for help in an emergency or administer naloxone.

The economic impact of COVID-19 compounds the already dire addiction crisis. 44 percent of Californians are reporting symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and there are reports of rising drug overdoses in California.3 Projections of California-based Well Being Trust estimate that over 22,000 additional Californians could die from additional “deaths of despair” (i.e. deaths from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol) due to the pandemic.

We look forward to working with you on urgent and sensible solutions to address the addiction crisis and help save lives of the most vulnerable among us during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Courtney Hunter

VP, State Policy