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On Thursday, September 30, Axios senior editor Sam Baker and health care editor Tina Reed explored how government, private sector and community efforts are responding to upsurges in COVID-19 cases and opioid deaths, featuring Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito highlighted how the COVID-19 crisis detracted attention from the addiction crisis all across the nation, the need to return to in-person crisis intervention teams despite the affordances of telemedicine, and how governments in West Virginia are refocusing efforts and resources on children and families affected by addiction.

  • On an example of localized intervention that helps West Virginia families: “There’s a program in West Virginia that started, it’s called Handle with Care. If a child is in a home and somebody maybe gets busted for drugs in the middle of the night, then that deputy or that sheriff who intervenes is going to call the school the next morning and say ‘Johnny has had a traumatic event in his family, please handle him with care.’”
  • On why the opioid crisis needs more government attention: “The numbers are staggering. The numbers of overdoses have gone way back up in the communities that were starting to see them go down, and so the families affected are going way up. I don’t think it’s going to take much for us to refocus on this simply because not only is it close to home, it’s expanding and it’s not getting better.”

Nora Volkow explained how pandemic stress and social isolation exacerbated addiction and how research is supporting better pain treatments so doctors don’t have to prescribe opiate medications.

  • On the recent significant increase in opioid overdose deaths: “It’s not surprising that in 2020, we’ve seen a 30% increase in the number of people that have died from overdoses from various types of drugs. The main culprits are opioids, of which the main driver is the very potent synthetic drug, fentanyl.”
  • On how current research is helping medical professionals combat this problem: “There are parallel tracks that aim to actually, on the one hand for example, advance research that actually can help us lead to better treatments of pain so that we don’t have to rely on opiate medications, that’s one component to it. And the other one is very much targeted, thoughtful understanding.”

Axios Chief Business Officer Fabricio Drumond hosted a View from the Top segment with Chief External and Government Relations Officer at Partnership to End Addiction

Marcia Lee Taylor, who discussed the role that stigma surrounding addiction plays in someone’s journey to recovery.

  • “Stigma is a giant stumbling block for people being able to get help. Unlike with other health conditions, people don’t talk to their doctor, they don’t talk to their neighbors. There’s a lot of shame about it because we for a long time in our country have treated addiction as a moral failing rather than a public health problem.”

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

John Frank, author of Denver
Oct 13, 2021 - Axios Denver

A reality check on Colorado's mandate to cover transgender services

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Colorado made a national statement Tuesday, becoming the first state to require some insurers to cover transition-related care for transgender people as an essential benefit.

Driving the news: The Biden administration agreed to the expansion sought by Gov. Jared Polis and affirmed two more mandates approved by Colorado lawmakers to cover more opioid treatments and a yearly mental health exam.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. The storm system claimed the lives of two people in Washington state after a tree fell on a vehicle amid powerful winds Sunday.

In photos: Drought-ravaged California lashed by major storm

Workers try to divert water into drains as rain pours down on Oct. 24 in Marin City, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A major storm system was pummeling Northern California and parts of the Pacific Northwest with heavy rains overnight.

The big picture: "Atmospheric river" storms, associated with a record-strong "bomb cyclone" offshore from the Pacific Northwest, have brought flooding and mudslides to parts of California that were razed by recent wildfires and in severe drought. It's also caused widespread power outages in California, Oregon and Washington state.