No one is immune to the deadly Coronavirus, but some people are more susceptible to negative outcomes.  For instance, individuals who have chronic pre-existing health problems, and the elderly.  They are at a higher risk of severe complications or death if they contract the virus.  Another group of people at increased risk of dangerous outcomes includes individuals who are struggling with substance abuse or addiction.  In fact, NIDA Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, says this about drug users and COVID-19

“The coronavirus could increase the pressure to use, cause complicated health effects, and curtail access to treatment for those struggling with addiction. Every one of us is affected by COVID – maybe we don’t get infected, (but) we’re all anxious because of the uncertainties surrounding it. How we cope with that anxiety is very much dependent on multiple factors, including our circumstances, but one of the ways that people cope with it is by taking drugs.”

Social distancing is one factor that can be especially problematic for drug users or people in recovery from addiction.

Dangers of Social Isolation for Substance Abusers

During the prolonged lockdowns, they are unable to cope with the loneliness, lack of support, and boredom.  They feel isolated and may become depressed. As a result, a significant number of these individuals will increase their drug or alcohol consumption to help them get through the day. With this increased consumption comes the risk of overdose or death.  

Another problem that arises from social isolation is that if a person overdoses, it is less likely that someone will be around to help.  In many cases, an overdose can be reversed,  But, someone must be available to call 911 or administer Naloxone to the individual. 

Drug availability is another issue faced by addicts during the pandemic.  Travel restrictions can have an impact on the drug supply chain.  Limited availability can raise prices or cause dealers to lace their products with dangerous chemicals in an effort to increase profits.  If a person can’t get or afford their drug of choice, they may try another substance that could be riskier.

Drug Users and COVID-19 Lockdowns: Other Problems That May Arise

In recent years, needle exchange programs (NEPs) have grown in popularity and have helped many drug users avoid disease by providing clean hypodermic needles at little or no cost. The goal of these programs is to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases.  

The NEPs have significantly reduced the spread of disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  However, that progress may come to a halt because of the virus pandemic.  During the lockdowns, many of the NEP clinics are closed.  They weren’t classified by some states as “essential” businesses.  These shutdowns have put many addicts at increased risk for infection or worse. 

Recovering addicts are also struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.  The lockdown has affected their ability to attend in-person counseling. Many self-help programs or any other support services have closed temporarily.  Furthermore, those who go to methadone clinics daily are having problems getting there if the clinics are even open.  

Are Drug Users Able to Get Treatment in Today’s New Normal?

Another issue has to do with substance abusers getting the treatment they need.  Many drug users don’t have insurance or money, so they rely on the ER if they need help.  But, virus patients take priority.  Therefore, addicts may not be at the top of the list for receiving services.  Also, many rehabilitation facilities closed during the pandemic and are unable to take in new patients. This is certainly a very scary time for drug users as well as everyone else.

The dilemma of drug users and COVID-19 complications is a complex issue that could lead to needless deaths.  If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction today, learn about the various resources that are available specifically for this unique situation.  Many organizations have established online support groups and counseling sessions.  These can help you stay in touch and avoid feeling forgotten or helpless.  

Resources: 

nih.gov – NIDA Director Outlines Potential Risks to People Who Smoke and Use Drugs During COVID-19 Pandemic

en.wikipedia.org – Needle Exchange Programme

usnews.com – For Drug Users, COVID Poses Added Dangers