Two dangerous epidemics of our generation, COVID-19 and opioid addiction, are intersecting in ways that are deadly, and which highlight the urgent ways we must respond to to help those in active addiction and those struggling to stay in recovery.
People who suffer from the disease of addiction are particularly vulnerable to both catching the coronavirus and having a more severe disease when they do, as they are more likely to be homeless, smokers with lung or cardiovascular disease, under- or uninsured, or have experienced serious health and socioeconomic issues from drug addiction.
For someone struggling with addiction, many of the services and treatments available to them have been disrupted by the COVID-19 epidemic. The government has relaxed regulations so that clinics can give longer-term supplies of much needed medication to “stable” patients, so that they don’t have to wait in line and can adhere to social distancing for safety. And, some restrictions have also been relaxed on buprenorphine prescriptions, allowing some telephone prescribing. However, many rehab facilities have limited new admissions, cancelled programs, or even shuttered their doors for fear of spreading coronavirus in a communal living setting.
A common truism in recovery culture is that “addiction is a disease of isolation,” so it stands to reason that social distancing is counter to most efforts to engage in a recovery community. The social isolation that is so critical to preventing the spread of coronavirus prevents people from attending peer-support groups, which are such a vital source of emotional and spiritual support to people struggling to stay in recovery.
Heightened anxiety is a near-universal trigger for drug use, and it is difficult to think of a more stressful event than this pandemic. Users who had been using drugs with a friend are now using them alone, and there is no one nearby who could administer naloxone or call 911 in the event of an overdose. As a consequence, police have been finding people dead in their homes. When people do call 911, first-responders may arrive more slowly. There are also reports of police departments across the country that are refusing to offer naloxone to people who have overdosed because of the danger that the person might wake up coughing and sneezing coronavirus droplets.
What we need to do now is reach out more than ever to those who are struggling with addiction, and provide them with the support and resources they need so that they are not alone and forgotten during this dual crisis. We need to make sure that they are getting the medications they need to recover, that they have access to clean needles if they are still using, adequate medical care, food, and housing.
Let's take care of each other. This is the time to reach out to friends and loved ones who are struggling.
If you, or someone you care about, is struggling with addiction, call us now at 330-330-8777.
We are open and accepting admissions in our in-patient residential programs as well as our in-person and telehealth outpatient programs.