COVID-19 is Exacerbating the Addiction Crisis

While the coronavirus epidemic continues to impact the United States, the addiction epidemic is silently following it. 

Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose 4.6 percent in 2019 to 70,980, including 50,042 involving opioids, according to new preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in mid-July. The CDC predicts that the final count for 2019 will be close to 72,000 overdose death, over 4,000 more than in 2018. 

In Virginia, overdose deaths were up 7.5 percent, increasing from 1434 at the end of 2018 to an estimated 1541 in December 2019. We have to keep in mind that this increase happened before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Since March, the coronavirus epidemic has been traumatizing Virginians, fanning the flames of the continuing addiction crisis. “We have heard from localities from around the Commonwealth they are seeing an increase in the number of drug overdoses in our communities,” Governor Ralph Northam warned in May.  

It’s not only drug overdoses, but also relapses and an increase in new rehab patients, particularly with alcohol use disorder. The isolation caused by the pandemic may bring out emotional and psychological issues that were hidden before. Farley’s medical director Jonathan Lee, M.D, says his team now has to deal with “more stressors, more anxiety, and exacerbated drug and alcohol addictions” because of the pandemic.

If addiction is running in your family, you may have a genetic predisposition, and beginning or increasing the use of alcohol really could put you at risk. “If someone is depressed they might feel better for a period drinking alcohol because it has a numbing effect but at the same time, it’s a depressant,” said Melissa Lee Warner, M.D., the director of the professionals program at the Farley Center. “It might be the right time to stay away from alcohol or to be very cognizant of how you integrate it into your life.” Much better to tackle corona-stress with meditation, breathing exercises, and other self-care methods recommends Dr. Warner.

Helping people with substance use disorder (SUD) during a pandemic is a major challenge. The recovery community is doing its best to continue helping people with addiction but it has been a steep learning curve under very difficult circumstances. Addiction professionals have tried hard to keep the recovery support system going while abiding by social-distancing requirements. 

The Farley team continues to help people with SUD and has implemented new policies and procedures, including a new visitor policy, increased housekeeping services to ensure surfaces are disinfected several times a day, the use of masks and other personal protective equipment when appropriate, and physical distancing. 

People in active addiction ready to go into recovery should not delay seeking treatment for their disease. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance misuse but you are unsure what addiction treatment services are available during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact The Farley Center at 800.582.6066 to find out about your options.