With coronavirus and related shutdowns dominating the headlines over the past few weeks, it can be difficult to see past that and remember that many of the societal crises that were top of mind just a couple months ago, still exist. One of these is the extreme rise in opioid addiction and overdose that the United States has been experiencing for the past few years. As we refocus on this new and exotic medical threat to our society, the substance abuse and addiction has taken a backseat. Well there’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic needs to be dealt with immediately, ignoring the very real and continuing scourge of addiction is at our own risk.
The addiction problem in the United States and around the world is only getting worse. And one thing we know about addiction is that addicts will continue to use despite great personal harm. So, if anyone is under the impression that a global pandemic will change the addiction landscape here or anywhere else, they would be very wrong. Unfortunately, the substance abuse problem continues, and tens of thousands of young lives are at risk.
Mental Health Cooccurring Disorders
Even more concerning is the fact that with added uncertainty and stress comes the potential for development or worsening of mental health issues. We know that substance abuse and mental health problems can go hand-in-hand – these are known as cooccurring disorders – and we know that the worsening of one disorder can lead to worsening the other. All of this translates to increases in substance abuse and mental health issues without the headlines or urgency that have alerted the general population in months and years past.
To that end, substance-abuse treatment must continue despite the coronavirus outbreak.
So, what reasoning do we use to continue substance-abuse treatment during a time like this?
Substance Abuse Remains a Killer
Remember that substance abuse and addiction is a killer. It kills up to 70,000 Americans every year and contributes to many more deaths indirectly. These are Americans who are typically young, otherwise healthy and have bright futures ahead of them. Simply because there is a pandemic outbreak does not mean that they should be ignored or marginalized. We risk further reducing the effectiveness of our treatment if we ignore the problem and let it proliferate.
One of the cornerstones of addiction treatment involves infection control. Much like medical facilities, the physicians, nurses and administration of substance abuse treatment centers such as Destination Hope are well trained in infection control protocol. We have decades of experience in infection control procedures to avoid spreading disease through the treatment center. As a result, we have fine-tuned our processes to ensure the lowest risk of transmission. However, we are also aware that coronavirus is a new disease that we still don’t know much about. As a result, we have modified our infection control protocol to heighten vigilance and reduce risk. You can read more about our policy here. The bottom line is that we are taking precautionary steps, above and beyond that which is required, to minimize the chance of transition.
Mental Health Concerns
With the stress and uncertainty, both health wise and financially, we expect that there will be a significant increase in substance abuse and mental health problems over the next several months. This makes our mission all the more important. We certainly do not want to come out the other side of this outbreak with an even greater substance abuse and mental health problem than what we were fighting before.
Increased Risk of Infection
Those abusing substances may also be at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus both due to the drug itself and associated medical problems. Whether it is a suppressed immune system or living on the streets, substance abusers must get appropriate treatment, so they can begin taking care of themselves and quite frankly reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus to others in the community.
Addiction is a Disease
While many dismiss it, it has become clear that addiction is an existential danger to the fabric of our society. While more people are coming around to the fact that addiction needs more attention and resources, we still see a great deal of stigma directed towards substance abusers in the community. Addiction must be treated like any other life or death disease, no matter what the circumstances.
If you or a loved one may be suffering from a substance abuse or mental health disorder, it is important that you seek help now. Waiting too long to address this disease not only increases the risk of poor outcomes, but also increases the risk of longer treatment times, serious injury and even death. We fully understand that this is a very scary moment for each and every one of us, however that does not mean that we need to take our focus off of an established and growing threat to our collective health.
Of course, take the time to follow the lead of our nation’s medical professionals and adhere to local governmental rules and regulations, but please do not take your eye off of an extremely dangerous, very prevalent and honestly, very treatable disease affecting our friends and loved ones by the millions – addiction.