Why Verily\’s Jessica Mega worries about non-COVID pandemics

COVID-19 might be the most urgent public health problem facing us today— but medical professionals are also calling attention to the other serious health crises the pandemic is making worse.

“There are over 11 million confirmed cases of COVID-19,” says Dr. Jessica Mega, chief medical and scientific officer of Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences. “But at the same time, I think it’s critically important for us all to think about other ailments that we see that are on the rise.”

Mega, speaking at Fortune’s virtual Brainstorm Health conference on Tuesday, called specific attention to the ongoing opioid crisis and its mounting fatalities since the onset of coronavirus. The isolation and financial stresses of the pandemic have contributed to a spike in overdoses this spring, reversing some hard-fought declines.

Fatal overdoses rose by almost 11.4% from a year earlier, with non-fatal overdoses rising by 18.6%, according to the raw data in a May report from the Overdose Data Mapping Application Program.

“Opioid addiction is one of the key health epidemics of our generation,” says Mega, mentioning the OneFifteen opioid recovery center that Verily opened with partners last year.

Of course, Verily and Google have also been involved in efforts to fight the newer pandemic, under some unwanted scrutiny. In March, the company was in the early stages of building a website to help speed up testing for COVID-19, when President Trump erroneously announced that it had developed a nationwide test site.

Despite that rough start, Verily is now making tests available in more than 13 states and has conducted 320,000 tests for COVID-19, Mega said Tuesday.

“It’s important to note that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she added. “Testing is going to need to continue expand.”

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

  • Why black-owned businesses were hit the hardest by the pandemic
  • Pop-up retail was made for the pandemic
  • How the coronavirus crisis has affected female founders
  • The enduring history of health care inequality for black Americans
  • E-book reading is booming during the coronavirus pandemic

Business Achievement Awards