COVID-19 May Spur the Next Wave of the Opioid Crisis

MastHead Outline
June 1, 2020

COVID-19 has placed the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and people with underlying health issues, such as respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, at a greater risk for serious illness or death.

However, as the pandemic continues to unfold, it could have a disproportionate effect on those currently battling or recovering from opioid additions. From social isolation measures disrupting treatment to COVID-19 impacting those with health effects from opioid addiction, the pandemic has far-reaching consequences. It could potentially spur the next wave of the opioid crisis without proactive steps or readily available treatment alternatives.

Opioid Overuse Can Case Serious Health Complications

Opioid addiction can lead to serious respiratory challenges. When someone takes high doses of opioids, it can cause their brainstem to slow their breathing and decrease oxygen levels in the blood. Low oxygen levels in the blood, known as hypoxemia, can potentially cause permanent brain damage as well as cardiac and pulmonary complications.

Because COVID-19 specifically affects lung function, those with an opioid use disorder (OUD) will likely have a greater chance of suffering from adverse health consequences or even death. Plus, many individuals suffering from addiction may be uninsured, homeless or have other socioeconomic issues, making it difficult for them to access medical care if they contract COVID-19.

Social Isolation Can Lead to Addiction or Relapse

While social distancing measures help stop the spread of COVID-19, unfortunately, these same measures can cause an increase in the number of opioid addictions and relapse cases.

Social distancing and stay at home orders can halt peer-support groups, which many rely on for understanding and support while undergoing treatment. Not taking part in support groups or fostering social bonds can lead to intense feelings of isolation, lack of direction and stress, which can cause a relapse.

Difficulty Managing Emotions and Mental Health

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented health challenges, disruptions in usual routines, job losses, food shortages and future uncertainties. These difficulties can lead to widespread feelings of anxiety and stress, which are difficult to manage in social isolation. Mental health can also begin to decline, causing drug use and relapse as individuals seek to manage and alleviate these feelings.

COVID-19 May Disrupt Treatment and Support

Opioid recovery programs rely on face-to-face health care delivery. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), for example, requires regulated doses administered by a qualified medical team to manage symptoms.

While opioid addiction treatment programs are considered essential medical facilities, some new patients may be unsure if they are able to be admitted. Federal laws require a complete physical evaluation before admission to an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP). However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) and State entities have granted exemptions to certain types of providers. For example, new patients being treated with buprenorphine during COVID-19 do not have to go through an in-person physical evaluation if the provider can adequately evaluate the patient through telehealth.

However, not all patients have access to the technology required for telehealth appointments. They could also have health concerns that lead to a greater risk of serious medical complications or death if they contract COVID-19. This worry could prevent individuals from physically entering an OTP during the pandemic. Any new patients experiencing this disruption in regularly administered medication and treatment routines can have adverse effects.

How Can You Get Help During the Pandemic?

Although COVID-19 has made it difficult to manage emotions and maintain social support and regular treatment, remember that recovery is your choice — even during a pandemic. Don’t stop your treatment. Instead, seek help in alternative ways such as virtual appointments from AppleGate Recovery. Through telehealth, you can still connect with your treatment team while in recovery.

We are also serving patients in-person per state guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. We’re accepting new patients, so everyone can get the treatment they need without delay.

Additionally, you should continue to receive support from a group. While social distancing measures stop groups from physically connecting in person, you can still participate in group chats or video conferencing.

AppleGate Recovery: Offering Hope and Recovery

Even during a pandemic, you can still find ways to receive the treatment, counseling and support you need to courageously continue your recovery. At AppleGate Recovery, we focus on MAT in addition to counseling.

We tailor each of our comprehensive treatment plans to meet your needs. Additionally, you’ll receive unlimited access to both our professional medical providers as well as our counselors. Our program gives you control of your life and recovery journey.

Learn more about how to get started today. We look forward to helping you find hope and recovery.