Addiction and COVID-19: A crisis blooms

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It’s a sad fact of life that thousands of adults die each year in America due to drug use. Whether through the dependence on illegal substances or the falling into prescription drug abuse, the frontlines of addiction care across the United States is a game of numbers, with professionals doing all they can to stem the tide and give life to those in need.

COVID, of course, has made the situation far worse. Now more than ever, we are seeing an increase in injuries, dementia, organ damage, suicide and suicidal ideation and more. Alcohol use has surged, understandably caused by mandated isolation that is leaving adults alone with their demons. 

We are in crisis. And although we must commit to supporting our government in its efforts against the pandemic, the fact remains that the gaps are showing in our continuum of care. 

Healthcare struggles

It’s simple: people who are struggling with addiction need the care of certified and specialised professionals. General medical staff are limited in their ability, confined to reacting to the physical and mental symptoms of prolonged substance misuse. Although life-saving medicine can and is dispensed when it is needed and available to treat addiction-related symptoms, the underlying causes are best addressed by continual therapy, individual and group sessions and residential or non-residential programmes. These are not available in enough numbers to meet demand.

We are now seeing what medical experts in many fields have predicted since COVID-19 was first announced as a threat to America: we don’t have enough funding or treatment centres and services available to meet this surge in need. Government funding, when available, has been cut by over a quarter and we are seeing a sharp dip in the training of young professionals and psychiatrists in the field of addiction treatment.

Adults left to themselves

The numbers tell a sobering story. With the availability of centres, clinics and inpatient facilities at an all-time low, adults who are unable to cope with a life devoid of drug and alcohol abuse are left to fight a hopeless battle by themselves in isolation. As demand surges during this incredibly challenging period, adults in every state in the country are adversely affected and left without means to enable recovery.

Support networks are instrumental in sustaining recovery. They’re pragmatic, too; friends and loved ones surrounding and supporting a person battling addiction help them to stay the course and remain motivated – all at no cost to our healthcare system. With the love and attention of those who care surrounding a person battling addiction, they are primed to have the best chance possible to overcome their demons. The pandemic has largely removed this vital aspect of recovery. 

Worse still, those who achieve a measure of access to care find themselves rushed through appraisal and signposted incorrectly. Whether it is through incorrect treatment diagnosis or the back and forth between mental health and addiction specialists, more adults than ever before find themselves addicted to cocaine, alcohol and damaging behaviours such as gambling. During the most stressful time in the lives of many, coping mechanisms are necessary for adults throughout the country – and those coping mechanisms are killing them and crippling their health. 

Hope for the future

If there is one hope specialists are keeping their eyes set on, it is the increasing sophistication of the government’s response. This is a new pandemic in every sense of the word, presenting us initially with a severe lack of data and understanding of the threat before us. With government transition seemingly imminent and more states feeding data on pandemic performance into the collective response, it is hoped that recognition of the mental health and addiction crisis blooming alongside the pandemic will finally be achieved in earnest.

With hard work, greater funding and a coordinated response backed by a better understanding of COVID-19 and its nuances, we may yet rally and gain ground against this most troubling of threats to our country.