The pandemic is reshaping life around the world in many ways. It’s impacting how we work, learn, and interact with our loved ones. But it’s also impacting the way that addiction plays out. It’s impacted recovery resources, and even the drugs that some people are taking.
All of that can have a grim result. Research indicates that overdoses are up during the pandemic. As the world races to address COVID-19, it’s important that public officials continue to address the addiction epidemic. Here’s why:
1. During The Pandemic , More People Are Overdosing
When you flick on the news, it’s easy to think that coronavirus is the only health crisis facing the world. However, the virus is exacerbating the existing addiction crisis. In October, the American Medical Association (AMA) released a brief warning that overdose rates appear to be rising during the pandemic. In fact, 40 states have seen an increase.
There are many factors that could be contributing to this rise. Many people are feeling stressed and hopeless. Isolation can have array of mental health impacts. In addition, people are more likely to be using alone, says Geoff Thompson, PhD, program director for Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia.
“Social isolation means that more people are using alone, leading to complications if a person overdoses,” he said.
2. Relapses Are Increasing, Too
It’s harder to find information on relapse rates, but people who work in recovery say they’ve seem many more people relapsing during the past eight months. That’s not surprising to Thompson.
“Previous pandemics like SARS and MERS have shown that many people relapse during pandemics—even those who have lived many years drug-free,” Thompson says.
Again, there are many reasons for this. In addition to social isolation and pandemic stressors, many recovery meetings have been shut down or transitioned to only digital service.
“Recovery therapy and meetings are online, but some with substance use disorder lack access to technology. Others resist online connections because they prefer face-to-face contact,” Thompson says. “In addition, mainstays of early recovery, such as gyms and coffee shops, have closed.”
3. The Purity of Drugs is Changing
The types of drugs that people are using has been impacted by the pandemic as well. Since many international borders have been closed, drug trafficking has been interrupted, Thompson says. That has left drug dealers scrambling to make their product last longer by cutting it with dangerous additives.
“The quality of illicit drugs has deteriorated because of border restrictions,” Thompson says. “This means that drugs are less pure, leaving users more vulnerable to experiencing negative side effects.”
The AMA backs this up, noting that fentanyl and fentanyl analogues have been responsible for much of the uptick and overdose deaths.
4. Treatment of Substance Abuse Could Be Changing, Too
Normally, people with substance abuse disorder face stigma, even when they try to get treatment. But that stigma and prejudice could be compounded during the pandemic, Thompson says.
“As the pandemic trudges on, the stigma of addiction increases,” he says. “Some hospital workers have less time for those patients with addictions because the workers believe addiction is self-inflicted, so a person suffering with substance use disorder will likely receive inferior help from professionals in hospital settings.”
5. People With Substance Use Disorder Are at Increased Risk for COVID
In addition to all the health issues surrounding addiction itself, people with substance use disorder are also at increased risk for catching coronavirus and suffering complications including hospitalization and death.
There are physical reasons for this, including the impact of substance use on the respiratory system, but there are also systemic issues including access to healthcare.
“Part of this is pre-existing mental disorders, part of it is homelessness, and part lack of resources,” Thompson says.
The pandemic is impacting everyone, but arguably having a disproportionate effect on those with substance use disorder, even if they’ve been in long-term recovery. Getting treatment for substance use disorder can help keep you healthy, through the pandemic and beyond.
Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.