COVID-19 and Substance Use Disorders

With unprecedented times comes unprecedented challenges, and the COVID-19 crisis has proven that to true, especially regarding drug-related overdoses. Recent studies indicate that substance-related overdoses and deaths are on the rise, with more than 35 states reporting increased mortality as a result of opioid use.

This rise is attributed to numerous factors, and the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow, discussed these contributors in a conversation published on the NIH’s Director’s Blog.

Dr. Volkow explained that many services that were previously available to individuals and families affected by substance use disorders are no longer accessible. Programs such as syringe exchanges, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and hospital emergency departments are either shut down or operating with restricted hours and access. The added stress of not being able to access these programs compounds with the current strain of the pandemic. This could result in dire consequences as an increase in stress could lead to relapse and drug use.

Virtual visits and meetings with doctors, counselors, peers, family, or other support systems can be a lifesaver during this time of isolation. Decreased face-to-face interactions take an emotional toll on everyone, especially those at higher risk, so these virtual interactions are crucial.

Individuals with substance use disorders may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the effects of drugs on the body, especially the pulmonary system. With pulmonary function being the primary target of COVID-19, individuals consuming drugs are at greater risk for experiencing heightened effects if the virus is contracted. Another risk is that individuals with substance use disorder are significantly less likely to have medical insurance than the rest of the population.

The NIDA website and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are resources that provide evidence-based information and treatment program information for people with substance use disorders. If you have a family member or friend who is struggling, these resources could be a lifesaver.

Rights and Responsibilities of Kinship Caregivers

Kinship Caregivers are family and friends who step up and become responsible for raising a child when their parents cannot care for them. The child may live with kinship caregivers for a number of reasons. There are two types of kinship care, informal care is a private arrangement between the parents and caregiver, while formal care occurs when a child is in the custody of a public child welfare agency. The rights and responsibilities of caregivers vary based on these arrangements, so it is imperative the adults in these roles understand their responsibilities. 

Custodial agreements range from informal custody to kinship guardian, with legal custody and direct custody in between. The primary difference between non-custody and custody arrangements is the responsibility to make major life decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, education and medical needs. A caregiver can attain legal custody through a custody order by a judge, legal guardianship, which is generally granted in a probate court, or adoption, which gives complete legal guardianship over a child.

In both arrangements, the caregiver is responsible for providing a safe environment that meets the child’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. The caregiver must provide the child with transportation to any required appointments and encourage social and recreational activities which are fundamental to a child’s growth and success. The caregiver should monitor the progress of the child’s social, academic and personal growth, and work with professionals as well as the child’s birth family to ensure positive development.

The children in kinship care often struggle to cope with complex feelings as a result of challenging family dynamics. Caregivers can provide emotional support by ensuring the child feels included and an equal member of the family.

Both the child and caregiver need a supportive, comfortable, and secure environment. Child welfare professionals should provide the caregivers with training and a support system to ensure a successful homelife for everyone involved. There should also be consistent communication to discuss and address challenges that may come with bringing a child into a new home. Caseworkers can provide support through offering therapy and support groups for families and children.