The coronavirus pandemic has been causing lots of challenges, especially when dealing with substance use disorders. The epidemic has wreaked havoc in America since it emerged earlier in January. The number of transmission cases continues increasing every day, with numerous lives lost. Researchers indicate that the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted every aspect of society and contributed to the highest massive fatality in American history.

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the country was facing another epidemic, which was the opioids drug overdose. It also resulted in unique challenges encountered by people who have substance use disorders (SUD). Unfortunately, of the 23 million Americans diagnosed with a SUD, only 10 percent can access treatment. Opioid crisis existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, and if the government is reluctant to take action, we might expect the worse from it.

Unique Challenges While Dealing With Substance Use Disorders

Individuals struggling with substance use disorders have many challenges depending on the severity of their conditions and access to social and financial supports. Those under the influence cycle in and out of rehab centers, emergency departments, displaced shelters, and disciplinary facilities such as prisons or jails to get help.

Also, SUD has often been linked with other severe and chronic multiple co-occurring illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, mental disorders, lung disease, among others. These comorbid diseases complicate treatment, creating additional challenging issues during treatment.

Addiction treatment also occurs in different environments, which creates even more challenges while reducing the transmission of coronavirus. While most substance use disorders treatment takes place in outpatient settings, there are multiple treatment sites available. These include hospitals and inpatient rehab/detox services that address opioid treatment, residential facilities, and OTPs, (formerly known as methadone maintenance programs).

Moreover, social distancing, which is the most effective way of lowering the spread of coronavirus, is virtually impossible to achieve in these environments. The reason being most of them require mutual support groups and group counseling, which is challenging to implement with physical distancing guidelines. Organizations affected include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Actions in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent opinion report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine,  by addiction medicine experts summarized the crucial need for rationalized access to treatment. The report attributed a particular focus given on the two most effective drugs for treating Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). These drugs include buprenorphine and methadone. Measures include:

  • The federal government to ease access to OUD treatment during the pandemic.  The medication supply for methadone has mainly been extensive for stable patients
  • The government has to expand the delivery of methadone rapidly. Such a move is crucial for quarantined patients
  • Health providers, especially rehabs, need to maximize and utilize Telemedicine technology. Centers that prescribe buprenorphine need to use this remote technology in all stages of medical care
  • Physical distancing and Alcohol treatment measures. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) established a database to allow support and treatment using telehealth for people struggling with alcohol use disorders

A Word From The Recover

As researchers continue seeking solutions for the pandemic, Americans need to be aware of the many existing and developing cases of substance use disorders. Particularly, marginalized and vulnerable society should have the most concern. For more information on how you can be mindful of SUD, ensure to check our rehab directory.

For now, people should continue to practice the guidelines for public health measures such as hand hygiene, social distancing, and facial masks, among others, as they keep safe.