The COVID-19 pandemic continues, but many states are taking steps to reopen businesses and loosen restrictions. It is still unclear what impact the changes will have on the addiction recovery community. Naturally, going back to in-person meetings in the near future is welcome; however, we should be concerned about heightened relapse and overdose rates among people in early recovery.
We must be clear; the pandemic is not over. Some 1,570,154 Americans have tested positive, and 93,436 have died from complications related to the coronavirus, a 9 percent increase since May 15th. Each of us must continue practicing social distancing, and the wearing of face masks in public is still strongly advised.
It is still unclear how much longer millions of Americans will have to live in relative isolation, which we pointed out before is not healthy for men and women in recovery. At PACE Recovery Center, we are hopeful that you continue to take precautions to protect your physical and mental health.
As an aside, one of the unforeseen byproducts of the COVID-19 crisis was the effect it would have on the international drug trade, drug sales, overdoses, and the addiction treatment industry. Many of you are probably aware that drug trafficking into the country is much more challenging than it was just a few months ago.
Naturally, stay at home orders made it harder for drug dealers to meet clients on the streets. Heroin shortages resulted in the stretching of product with deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a drug that is 100 times more potent than morphine. We don’t have data yet, but it’s fair to wager there has been an uptick in overdoses in some parts of the country as a result.
Opioid Addiction During a Pandemic
Unable to access opioids from one’s usual dealer, many turned to new avenues of acquiring heroin and pills, NPR reports. Utilizing a foreign supply source may not seem like a big deal, but according to an addiction expert in Orange County, California, such changes are fraught with peril.
When they had to use another dealer, they would be getting a different strength. So they weren’t really sure of how they should measure it and how much they should use. So we started seeing a lot of overdoses and a lot of overdose deaths in the first couple of weeks of the pandemic.”
Travel restrictions at the southern border, and on flights from Asia or South America, have decreased the availability of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine significantly. Shortages led dealers to increase their prices exponentially, according to the article. With more than 35 million out of work and store closures preventing shoplifting, many addicts could no longer afford to purchase their drugs.
Many people sought addiction treatment services as one might expect, rather than face painful opioid withdrawal symptoms. Jack MacEachern, who runs a Salvation Army residential drug recovery program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says the pandemic has led to a decrease in relapse and overdose rates.
Reopening Could Lead to Relapse and Overdose
When a person detoxes and begins a program of recovery, their tolerance to opioids changes. When life returns to normal, and drug supply routes open back up, a number of those who got clean during the lockdown may decide to start using again. Such individuals may not understand that their tolerance is not the same, which could result in a spike of fatal overdoses.
The above concern has resulted in discussions about ramping up access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, a tactic that the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Elinore McCance-Katz, supports, the article reports. However, she says that such measures are complicated.
In some areas, first responders such as law enforcement do not want to administer naloxone because they’re afraid of being exposed to the coronavirus,” said McCance-Katz. “I found that very concerning because the option is that the person dies.”
Opioid Addiction Treatment for Men
Please reach out to PACE Recovery Center if you are an adult male struggling with opioid use disorder. Opioid addiction is a treatable condition, and long-term recovery is possible with the guidance of professionals. Our gender-specific treatment center for men can give you the tools to break the cycle of self-destructive and self-defeating behavior and help you begin a new life.