When COVID-19 and Opioid Addiction Meet: A Story of 2 Epidemics

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 | By Cooper Samp

Two great epidemics of our generation are intersecting in ways that are additively fatal. These times highlight the immediate ways we need to answer some of the underlying cracks in our culture. These cracks are worsening both situations.

Social Determinants of Health Create Greater Vulnerability

Individuals who experience addiction are particularly at risk of the coronavirus. They are more at risk of catching the coronavirus. They are also vulnerable to more serious symptoms when they catch the disease. There are lots of reasons for this, but they come down to something called social determinants of health, which according to the CDC are “problems in the places where individuals live, learn, work, and play [which] impact a vast array of health risks and outcomes.” In short, people experiencing addiction are significantly far more at risk to coronavirus, as they are more prone to be homeless, underprivileged, smokers with lung or heart disease, under- or without insurance, or have experienced significant health and socioeconomic issues from drug addiction. There are also numerous at-risk incarcerated people. Many stuck in prison as a result of their addictions and associated nonviolent drug offenses.

The Interruption of Treatments and Support Systems

For someone with an addiction, the COVID-19 epidemic interfered with virtually all of the treatments and services offered. People have to stay home, which outright opposes the need to head to clinics to get methadone or various other medications for dealing with addiction Our government, in response, has relaxed regulations to make sure that, theoretically, centers can give 14-day and even 28-day supplies to “stable” patients. This helps make sure that they don’t have to wait in line and can follow social distancing for safety. However, there are many stories of patients without this privilege.

The government has actually relaxed some limitations on buprenorphine prescribing, and has enabled some telephone prescribing, yet this assumes that there are medical professionals available that are healthy and certified to prescribe this drug, and that the physicians and pharmacies’ offices are functioning. This epidemic also affects access to clean needles as well. In addition, rehab centers have restricted new admissions and terminated programs. Some have shut their doors for fear of spreading coronavirus in a public living environment.

Social Isolation Raises The Threat For Addiction.

An usual truism in recovery society is that “addiction is a condition of isolation”. Therefore, it stands to reason that social distancing is counter to many initiatives to participate in a recovery community. It is important to bear in mind that experts distinguish between physical distancing and social distancing. In fact, they emphasize that we keep physical distance, but make extra efforts to keep social bonds during the presence of enormous stress, anxiety and displacement.

The social seclusion that is so crucial to preventing the spread of coronavirus prevents individuals from going to peer-support teams. These teams are such an important resource of psychological and spiritual support to individuals battling to remain in recovery.

Isolation Might Increase The Risk of Overdose Fatalities

Increased anxiousness is a near-universal trigger for drug use, and it is challenging to think about a more stressful event– for everyone– than this pandemic. Customers who embraced harm reduction methods and had been using drugs with a friend are now using them alone, and there is no one nearby who might administer naloxone or call 911 in case of an overdose. As a consequence, authorities have been discovering people dead in their apartments. When people do call 911, the already overloaded healthcare system and initial-responders may be slow to show up. We know starting addiction treatment in the ER can help prevent relapse. But today. COVID-19 cases overwhelm emergency room medical professionals. They also might not have enough time or resources available for addiction medications following an overdose.

Regretfully, the awful face of stigma and discrimination is coming out as well, as there are records surfacing of police departments throughout the nation declining to provide naloxone to individuals who have overdosed, on the pretext that it is too unsafe because the “addict” might wake up coughing and sneezing coronavirus.

Numerous Health Crises Indicate Extensive Services

What we have to do now is reach out more than ever to those that are battling with addiction, and provide them with the resources, such as online meetings, so that they are not alone and forgotten during this dual crisis of coronavirus and addiction. We should try to see to it that they are getting the medicines they need to recover, that they have accessibility to clean needles if they are still using, ample healthcare, food, and housing– basic human needs.

If any type of good has emerged of the anguish of the merged COVID-19 and opioid epidemics, perhaps it is that a light has been shined on the harmful social cracks– poverty, income inequality, absence of medical insurance and access to medical care, homelessness– that are real social determinants of health we will need to deal with as part of an effective response to future pandemics.

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