The Addiction and COVID-19 Connection
People with an addiction are being impacted by COVID-19 in many ways, but the community is working on continuing crucial treatment.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact America, there is hardly any aspect of daily life that it does not affect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 160,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as of August 2020. Those who have lost their lives directly from the virus are not the only ones who have suffered. Drug use and drug overdose deaths are suspected to be increasing for a number of factors influenced by the wreckage COVID-19 has caused. Kipu Health reported that the number of opioid overdoses in large cities has risen by 54% in 16 states. The link between opioid addiction and COVID-19 is a serious issue that individuals, families, and medical and treatment professionals are fighting to overcome.
The situation of opioid addiction and COVID-19 is continuing to unfold, but recent study findings are causing major concern for experts. Millennium Health, a national laboratory service, analyzed 500,000 urine drug tests and found that there was an increase of 32% for nonprescribed fentanyl and 20% for methamphetamine from March through May. The University of Baltimore found that suspected drug overdoses rose 18%, and even alcohol sales have increased by more than 25%. Restrictions on air travel and closed borders have impacted drug trafficking, causing some dealer’s supplies to be diminished. This may lead someone struggling with a substance use disorder to turn to a new, unfamiliar dealer who may provide them with drugs that are more likely to lead to an overdose. For example, the issue of fentanyl being mixed in with heroin has been the culprit for many overdose deaths, as fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. If someone takes their normal dose of heroin without knowing there is fentanyl in it, it is likely they will overdose.
Drug trafficking disrupted by COVID-19 is a long-term concern, as well as its impact on present times. It is believed that the pandemic is causing dealers to stockpile drugs, leading to a decrease in prices and increased availability when restrictions are lifted. Access to high-purity drugs could lead to an increase in overdoses. Some states across America have renewed lockdowns, causing dealers to mix their supply with deadly substances. Not only do factors of drug purity and availability perpetrate the opioid crisis, the emotional and financial consequences of COVID-19 are wreaking havoc on individuals with a substance use disorder.
The emotional implications as a result of COVID-19 have been devastating. Social distancing has caused loneliness and isolation, lack of work opportunity has caused homelessness and fears about the future, and in result has created anxiety over many factors, as well as relapses in those in recovery. In some cases, individuals have been forced out of treatment or had to enter into a modified treatment program. Certain facilities that have patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have had to isolate patients and operate at a decreased capacity. In a time where social connection is so crucial, having to be isolated while in recovery can derail a person’s recovery altogether.
Anxiety over COVID-19 may be stopping some people from seeking treatment for an addiction when they truly need it. However, in many cases, people are more likely to die from their addiction than COVID-19, especially with a dangerous addiction to opioids. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have modified guidelines on providing buprenorphine and methadone to those who need it, as well as other increased areas of flexibility. However, there is nothing treatment professionals can do for someone who does not seek out help.
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Recent statistics from front-line professionals paint a deeply concerning picture regarding opioid addiction and COVID-19. 96% of medical and treatment professionals reported that patients with an opioid use disorder have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 92% of front-line professionals stated that opioid use has increased “somewhat” to “a lot.” 94% of front-line professionals report that social isolation has led to an increase of 94% in relapses. Those with an opioid use disorder are not the only ones negatively affected. 86% of front-line professionals reported that COVID-19 has diminished their ability to do their jobs.
Healthcare workers are at an increased risk for contracting COVID-19, with Massachusetts General Hospital reporting that, “frontline health care workers had a nearly 12-times higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19.” Other healthcare workers are being laid off or furloughed due to the low number of elective care cases, according to Kipu Health. The link between opioid addiction and COVID-19 doesn’t only affect 1 group of people; it’s devastating impact has sent tendrils of destruction throughout countless parts of communities across the country. Individuals, communities, and treatment professionals must work together to educate others on this daunting reality. For those fighting an addiction, seeking treatment may be essential to their survival.
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