COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Throughout the pandemic, drug overdoses have reached record highs, and Ohio’s doctors are meeting to bring awareness to it.

“We have been making progress over the past few years, but the numbers of opioid deaths have just skyrocketed,” said Dr. Carson Felkel, system medical director of behavioral health at Bon Secours Mercy Health.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdose deaths reached a record high of over 93,000 nationwide, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is the largest single-year percentage increase on record since 1999.

It’s why medical professionals from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Bon Secours Mercy Health gathered Wednesday in a panel called the Healthy State Alliance.

“What we have to do in healthcare is create a safe place where they know that they are cared for and we will be there when they’re able to have a little insight into the fact that they want to leave that life,” Felkel said.

The alliance is an initiative working to highlight solutions to the opioid epidemic, solutions including alternatives in pain management to reduce opioid use, emphasizing the role opioids play in human trafficking, and addressing the stigma around addiction.

“We’re fighting addiction and stigma in a variety of ways, but despite that, addiction stigma remains common,” said Dr. Trent Hall, a psychiatrist with OSU Wexner.

Hall said one of the best methods to addressing that stigma is by using first-person language, which highlights people before their addiction diagnosis.

“We’re really putting the person first, and the disease last, so an example might be a man with opioid use disorder, or a woman with opioid use disorder,” Hall said.

The Healthy State Alliance also plans to hold a free virtual symposium Oct. 16 to further educate health care professionals about ideas to treating the opioid crisis.