Substance Abuse Treatment in Times of COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic and global quarantine made people’s lives enormously hard. Especially, people with chronic diseases or different addictions suffer because their treatment was impacted the most. For the first weeks of the quarantine, people were not able to get their regular treatment in hospitals, some of them even had to stop it. People with substance use disorder stayed at home, along with their problems.

Although support groups started their online meetings, many individuals still need inpatient treatment and 24-hour supervision. Almost everybody is afraid of leaving home and going to a rehab center. Also, during quarantine lockdown, even healthy people face additional mental health problems, such as depression, stress, panic attacks, and much more. People with substance use disorders are at a higher risk.

In fact, there are a lot of options for the treatment of addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic in a safe way. Rehabilitation centers try to adapt to the new coronavirus reality by taking strict precautions and may present one of the safest environments for addicted people. In this article, we will consider all the addiction treatment methods and try to explain their pros and cons.

COVID-19 and substance abuse statistics

Coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the globe. According to the latest data from Worldometer, the total number of infected people is 9,110,693. This number includes 471,771 deaths and 4,879,944 people who finally recovered from COVID-19. Out of 3,758,978 active cases, 57,800 patients are in critical or serious condition.

Coronavirus has infected 215 countries and territories around the world. The list of them and their continental regional classification is based on the UN geoscheme.

By the number of all the infected people in the world, the United States leads. As of today (6/22/20), 2,366,449 cases of COVID-19 disease were recorded in the US, and 122,321 people died.

In 2018, almost 12% of the population (or 31.9 million) older than 12 years claimed that they used illegal drugs within the previous month. The number of people who used drugs in the previous year is higher – 53 million or 19.4%. Twenty million people in the US had a problem serious enough to be classified as a substance use disorder.

Coronavirus and the drug supply chain

Global quarantine has undermined the drug trade, but the temporary lull is likely to rebound soon when drug trafficking is restored, and the economy, on the contrary, is not.

Drug dealers will flood the market with cheap illegal goods as soon as the borders open, and planes fly. This is bad news for the people whose health is already undermined by the Covid-19 epidemic and the increasing consumption of synthetic drugs.

And while quarantine has reduced crime, the impending economic crisis – the worst in a century – can change everything. It will spur the production of narcotic and psychotropic substances and make the illegal business attractive for many people below the poverty line, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime warned.

The economic downturn due to Covid-19 could change the drug market for a long time. With an eye to the experience of the 2008 financial crisis, we can assume that countries will cut their budgets for combating drug trafficking. Drug consumption will increase and shift towards cheaper substances; the cases of overdoses and serious health damage may become more frequent.

How Drug Rehabs Have Adapted to the COVID-19 Pandemic

First of all, before inviting new patients, rehabs usually conduct phone screening to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It prepares the staff for new patients’ needs and reduces the time they need to spend outside. After arrival, everybody needs to be asked about any COVID-19 symptoms (feeling ill, fever, cough). All the visitors are provided with respirators or face masks, disposable face shields, gloves, and goggles.

In times of COVID-19, waiting rooms are also modified so that the pandemic would be handled appropriately. In addition to CDC guidelines for clinics, rehabilitation centers should:

  • Provide trash cans, tissues, and sanitizers in every waiting room;
  • Conduct regular disinfection and cleaning in every room;
  • Control that patients do not use the items that can be contaminated with the virus (such as books and magazines);
  • Place chairs and other furniture far from each other, at a sufficient distance.

Also, during alcohol and drug addiction treatment in times of coronavirus, such critical medication as buprenorphine may be refilled without in-person visits. Doctors can now conduct consultations and issue prescriptions via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or even phone.

Along with buprenorphine, access to naloxone should also be remote. This drug is very important for addiction treatment during COVID-19 because it mitigates opioid overdose effects.

Face-to-face interaction and communication are very beneficial during the whole process of recovery. Support groups seem impossible now; however, small meetings of up to ten people can be conducted under the following conditions:

  • The room and all the furniture should be disinfected before every meeting;
  • The distance between chairs should be at least six feet;
  • Every participant should be supplied with hand sanitizers and face masks.

It is more beneficial for patients to stay in a rehab facility because they get monitored by professional doctors 24 hours a day, especially when it comes to detox and withdrawals. So it is quite difficult to get infected by the coronavirus in a rehab facility. However, even if it happens, doctors are well prepared and know what to do.

It is hardly possible to cope with depression on your own during rehabilitation. COVID-19 leads to isolation, which is why it is dangerous for addicted people. They do not get all the support they need and become more vulnerable. Communication and interaction, which can be provided by rehabs, help divert depression and other mental problems, which tend to increase during self-isolation.

Online Options

If you do not want to leave home under any condition, there are still options for you to get support, medical advice, and at least some communication. You can look for national or state addiction hotline numbers and get all the consultations via phone. There are more of these services available during the global quarantine.

Also, you can find a lot of options for online AA or NA meetings and chat-based consultations. Now, almost all the rehabs provide online support, so you only need to search their sites. The online groups are as private as offline ones and are conducted according to the same social norms as face-to-face meetings.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Roger Seiss, MD is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career on AddicionResource.com. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.

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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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