While everyone has been so focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, the substance overdose epidemic has reached record highs, including deaths. Even before COVID-19, substance overdose deaths in the U.S. have risen to 70,980 in 2019, a 4.6% increase in 2018. Health officials already expected that these figures will increase as the overdose death rate climbed higher during the pandemic.
People who frequently use psychoactive substances since the pandemic has experienced a variety of negative impacts, such as increased substance use and fear of overdose or relapse. This issue further highlighted the need for comprehensive services and support and better access to substance rehabilitation programs. One example is an outpatient rehab program, an online substance abuse counseling offering professional support for substance use and disorder while in the comfort of your home.
The global crisis caused by COVID-19 has pushed people to their limits by the continuous loss of jobs, death of loved ones, and financial pressure. If the pandemic goes on, we will be seeing a further increase in overdose deaths and other drug-related problems in the near future. With that in mind, we’ll break down some potential concerns of substance use during the pandemic.
Risks of substance abuse during the pandemic
The increase in substance overdoses since COVID-19 isn’t surprising. From the health crisis, increased isolation, financial challenges, lack of human connection, and social unrest, all these happenings have fueled people’s desire to look for release and gratification. As a result, people turn to substances to escape the pain of reality.
Given all the stressors and risk factors, it’s not surprising why more people are becoming substance dependent. In a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with substance use or mental health concerns while 13% started or increased substance use. These figures demonstrate that the consequences of COVID-19, such as grief, stress, isolation, and financial insecurity, have serious impacts on people’s mental health, which can promote increased reliance on substances, overdose, and progression to addiction.
Since the pandemic, more patients have died of substance overdoses. Experts point out that the attention devoted to beating COVID-19 has overtaken the needed services for those suffering from substance addiction. The risk of contracting the virus also fueled people’s fears to go outside and seek care. Patients are postponing checkups and routine screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms, while those with stroke and heart attack refuse to go to the emergency room because of COVID-19 fears. The same goes for those who fear getting treatment to address acute intoxication.
Amid the increasing cases, almost every healthcare settings are full and medical professionals have to deal with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients. This eliminates the surge of lifeline and support for patients needing urgent and lifesaving care.
Issues surrounding substance overdose during COVID-19
The poor system in tackling mental health concerns, particularly access to substance treatment, has been a long-standing problem. Instead of getting the care they need, patients keep taking the wrong direction, risking their health and life in the process. Even before COVID-19, the mental health system has failed to provide addiction services and treatment to those who need it. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, health authorities wouldn’t find out the system’s vulnerabilities in tackling substance abuse.
Overdose cases will continue to increase until governments find ways to make addiction treatments and mental health services easier to access. While solutions and resources are available, the marginalization and the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health made it difficult to tackle emerging issues in a comprehensive way. To ensure appropriate responses to drug-related cases, it’s important to get these issues out of the way in the beginning.
Initiatives in addressing overdose
Authorities have already enacted a few quick changes to address addiction during COVID-19. For example, federal agencies enforced policies to increase access to at-home medication doses for treating opioid use disorder and extended telemedicine access to substance action treatment. Even meetings are also taking place online.
The changes to overdose-related services allowed patients to seek new ways of getting better care whenever they need it. Patients have addiction needs and mental health concerns the healthcare system needs to address, and reforming the treatment approaches and public health policies are the only ways to have those needs met. While there are still existing gaps in terms of addiction services and research, there’s still a lot of significant work that needs to be done.
As the world remained focus on beating COVID-19, we must also give our equal attention to other pressing health concerns. Governments and health officials should sustain initiatives in service provision and addiction research to meet the unique challenges in public health. These also include mental and emotional support to people who aren’t getting the help they need in these uncertain times.