“After years of steadily moving in tandem, two of America’s worst public health trends diverged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Drug overdose deaths jumped 30 percent last year to 92,500, according to newly released federal data, a sudden surge following years of incremental increases once the opioid epidemic took hold. But suicides actually dropped slightly, from 47,500 in 2019 to 44,800 in 2020.
Those two trends have tracked closely over the past decade, so much so that there is an umbrella term in academia that encompasses both of them (among other things): deaths of despair. Much of the recent stagnation in US life expectancy can be explained by these premature deaths, concentrated especially among young men, and scholars have theorized about the economic and social conditions driving those trends.
That was the situation before Covid-19. So what happened during the pandemic?”
“Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which gave millions of low-income adults access to health insurance, was linked to a 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose death rates — potentially preventing thousands of deaths — according to a new study in JAMA Network Open.
The study looked at what happened in counties in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by 2017, compared to counties in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, accounting for variables like demographic and policy differences. The Medicaid expansion was made optional in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, and only 32 states and Washington, DC, had opted to expand by the study period (with the total rising to 37 in the past few years).
The study helps put to rest claims by some Republican lawmakers, particularly Sen. Ron Johnson (WI), that the Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse by expanding access to painkillers. The new study, echoing others before it, suggests the Medicaid expansion had the opposite effect, and that there wasn’t a link between the expansion and more deaths caused by painkillers, with the possible — and relatively uncommon — exception of methadone used in pain treatment.
The researchers found that Medicaid expansion counties had a 6 percent lower rate in opioid overdose deaths than non-expansion counties. That was mostly due to an 11 percent lower rate of deaths involving heroin and a 10 percent lower rate for deaths linked to synthetic opioids excluding methadone”