Mental health experts worry that people are going to turn to illicit drugs to deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Warnings are sounding from scientific journals.
“COVID-19 could cause infection in persons with opioid use disorder, increase opioid overdose rates, reverse system-level gains in expanding access to medication for opioid use disorder, halt critical research, and prevent exacting legal reparations against opioid manufacturers,” reads one excerpt from Annals of Internal Medicine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a particularly grave risk to the millions of Americans with opioid use disorder, who—already vulnerable and marginalized—are heavily dependent on face-to-face health care delivery. These authors propose rapid and coordinated action on the part of clinicians and policymakers to mitigate risks of disrupted care for these patients,” reads another excerpt from Annals of Internal Medicine.
The Public Health Institute said 35% fewer people have been seen with opioid addictions in emergency rooms since the pandemic reached California, almost 48% fewer people have been given withdrawal medication and 24% fewer people have attended follow-up appointments. These seem to be signs that fewer people who are addicted to drugs are receiving treatment in California since the pandemic began.
“Fewer people are seeking treatment for services during this time period, but an increase in relapses has been noted for those who are involved in treatment,” said Jeffrey Nagel, the director of Orange County’s Behavioral Health Services.
“There’s likely much more use of substances that we’re not capturing right now, either in hospitals or emergency rooms or jails,” said Gary Tsai of Los Angeles County’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Control division. “There is a lot of concern that pent-up cases will materialize once our communities reopen. I think that’s a very real risk.”
The social distancing measures involved in the pandemic may be making the opioid epidemic worse. “Feeling irrelevant, feeling that no one cares for you, is probably one of the most devastating feelings a human being can have,” said the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Nora Volkow. It can “increase dramatically the risk of taking drugs, and, if you are trying to stop taking drugs, it increases that risk of relapse.”
Alameda, Riverside, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara and Sacramento counties have historically high numbers of overdose deaths, yet officials in these counties are reporting declines in people being admitted to or seeking addiction treatment this year. Closures due to the pandemic may be preventing people from accessing outpatient services.