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.

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