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Overdose Deaths Skyrocket During COVID Lockdown — It’s Time For A Change!

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At the beginning of the COVID lockdown, drug and alcohol treatment activists along with harm reduction activists, pushed for easier access to methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone) to curb the potential for increased overdose rates during the mandatory virus quarantine period. It was thought that by allowing easier access to methadone and buprenorphine that they could reduce overdoses by 50% in the population of two million heavy opioid users nationwide. This push for an increase in Medication Assisted Therapies (MAT) has been happening for years, long before the COVID lockdown happened. But once the fears of COVID grew, the cry for universal MAT became deafening, the government responded immediately in March, and the floodgates opened to 28 day at-home methadone supplies for those with these issues.

Unfortunately this liberal access to replacement therapy has not had the intended effect of reducing the overall overdose rates. As a matter of fact, overdoses have risen steadily throughout the lockdown. By June monthly overdoses increased 42% when compared to the same time period in 2019. It’s safe to say the new rules allowing 28 day take-home supplies of methadone led to no improvement. By the end of 2020, it is expected that there will be thousands of additional deaths over the previous year’s estimated 50,000 deaths. From these numbers we can surmise that MAT is not the one-size-fits-all answer to the increased opioid overdose trend.

Where the MAT System “works”

Before I go on, I’m not here to demonize MAT as a solution to curbing some overdoses and preserving life. Providing methadone and/or other replacement substances to a demographic of opioid users that are at high risk for overdose or that have a history of multiple overdoses can make sense. For the man or woman who has no intention on abstaining from heavy opioid use, or who is using the substances in a geographic area known to contain black market opioids laced with fentanyl, the fact that they have a way to avoid withdrawal, (a major driver for continued opioid use in this particular heavy-use demographic) can help keep them away from these dangers. However, and here’s the rub, most users are not in this demographic. Most users do not overdose multiple times, and many have never encountered fentanyl. The fact is that historically, the vast majority of heroin and opioid users successfully quit without MAT, and the rates of overdose were far lower before MAT became the standard treatment. More than 96% percent overcome their heroin and other opioid addictions according to data spanning from at least the 1970s to the early 2000s. This is the great untold truth that gets ignored in the push for universal MAT as the only solution.


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The myth that MAT is not accessible to the needy addict keeps the narrative running that “opioid users don’t have the medicine they need.” With more than 1.5+ million people currently on MAT, and 2 million opioid users classified as “addicts” one must wonder why the push for this one-size-fits-all solution is even an issue. MAT is universally accepted already, and is accessible via treatment centers, is promoted in nearly all detoxes nationwide, and is available in nearly all geographic areas via private doctors certified in MAT therapies. Here’s the kicker – overdose rates haven’t gone down prior to the COVID lockdown, and during the lockdown they’ve skyrocketed 42% even with far more take-home methadone being made available!

Any solution for addiction that distracts the individual from making their own decisions, coming to their own conclusions, and knowing that they can change and overcome challenges through a variety of means is flawed and destined to cause more harm than success. The idea that every opioid addict needs to indefinitely take safer opioids such as methadone and buprenorphine is just such a flawed and deadly “solution.” It is even more deadly now that the COVID lockdown has been in effect. These are just the unintended consequences of knee-jerk solutions.

A Much Better Solution During the COVID-19 Lockdown

A better solution during the lockdown is twofold. First, it is vital people know that isolation, boredom stress and depression DO NOT CAUSE addiction. However, because we in America have been taught to believe in this causal relationship between these human problems and addiction, it’s important to break this connection. (To better understand how to break this connection, read The Freedom Model for Addictions Chapter 6, Learned Connections).

Next, know that no matter how bad your habit is, it’s not an incurable disease, and your statistical chances for moving on from your habit are 96% whether you’re treated or not. As we get older, we get wiser, and our preferences change. Even your preference for heavy use will change. It’s natural and inevitable, and you don’t need replacement therapies to stop. You can simply go to a detox, and within a week, walk out and move on with your life. You can take MAT meds to get you over the hump if that’s what you assess as the best option for you. You can take any number of paths. Whatever helps you to see that there is a bright light beyond heavy opioid use will work. Withdrawal is just one easily surmountable obstacle in this deeply individual process. But to scare people into thinking they can never succeed without MAT is not helpful, because it’s just plain untrue, and puts too much focus on withdrawal. Again, if you want to know more about your chances of moving past your addiction, read The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. It’s all there for you, spelled out in detail. Know this – you too can escape addiction, treatment and recovery and move on!

If you or someone you love are ready to break free from the addiction and recovery trap and move on, call us at 888-424-2626.

For more information about The Freedom Model go to

Mr. Mark Scheeren is the Co-Founder and Chairman of the St. Jude Retreat, as is co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap, the original Non-12-Step approach for people who struggle with serious substance use issues. Mr. Scheeren and his staff of Researchers and Instructors have helped many thousands find permanent solutions to their drug and alcohol problems.

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