The novel coronavirus exploded in our country when public health was already battling another epidemic: the opioid crisis. Some 2 million people have an opioid use disorder, and nearly 50,000 die every year from overdoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a health care provider and member of the Clark County Opioid Task Force, I’m passionate about ending the stigma associated with drug and alcohol abuse so people can get the help they need. Every one of these numbers is a real person, someone I might see in my practice. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, pastors, and students—anyone from any walk of life can develop a substance use disorder. Particularly now.
The disruption created by the coronavirus is putting more people at risk for developing an addiction, sliding out of recovery, or overdosing. Isolation, depression, and anxiety are factors leading to substance abuse and relapse. Reporting by The Washington Post found that overdoses jumped 29 percent in April and 42 percent in May.
Now is the time for patients and families to be particularly vigilant. Below are some great resources for yourself and loved ones:
Primary care providers
Doctors and providers work with patients to create a treatment plan tailored to them. For those struggling with an opioid addiction, Suboxone can help with withdrawal symptoms and make staying in a treatment program easier. Other prescriptions are used for alcohol and nicotine dependence.
While it’s always important to get help for an addiction, COVID-19 is making it more important than ever to enter recovery and find positive ways of dealing with stress.
Providers can also help people manage anxiety and depression using counseling, prescriptions, or both. Treating mental health concerns properly can help prevent people from self-medicating with substances.
Finding a support group is crucial for addicts and their families. Many Southwest Washington counseling services have moved online, allowing people to access the care and connection they need in the midst of the pandemic:
- Vancouver Intergroup Alcoholics Anonymous
- NAMI of Southwest Washington
- Southwest Washington Area Narcotics Anonymous
- Rainier Springs free Coping with COVID support groups
- CoDependents Anonymous (CoDA) Portland, Oregon, and Metro Area
- Washington Area Al-Anon Family Group
- Pacific NW Nar-Anon
Family and friends
It’s important for people to check in on each other (virtually) during this time. Until it’s safe to see people in person, Zoom and FaceTime calls can provide a connection, as can emails, texts, and snail mail. If you have friends, grown children, elderly relatives, or acquaintances who live alone, take a moment to reach out to them. Small acts of kindness can make a significant difference in people’s lives. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I also suggest that people be proactive about protecting their immediate family members. Prioritize family dinners, regular sleep, and exercise, which are all a boon to mental health. Get rid of unused prescriptions to prevent misuse. While in many ways the coronavirus is creating the conditions for substance abuse, it’s also opening up opportunities to slow down and reconnect with those in your household.
For more help dealing with substance abuse or mental health concerns, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor.
Elizabeth Cook is a family nurse practitioner at Vancouver Clinic. She has a special interest in helping patients and families coping with addiction.