During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in fatalities involving opioids and increased use of other drugs.
According to reports by the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, drug overdoses increased 42% in May 2020.
Early in the pandemic, the American Medical Association wanted to avoid a potential surge in opioid-related overdose deaths as the country began to lockdown. But by July, the association released a report showing their earlier concerns were valid; there was a huge increase in deaths involving illicit opioids, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.
“There's that sense of increasing anxiety, worry and dread and especially the epidemic, which has taken so long to be under control," said Dr. Fadi Nicolas, chief medical officer of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
He says the pandemic has created a unique and challenging situation for many people.
While he is still treating those with chronic depression and a history of substance abuse, some of his new patients blame the pandemic for their newfound dependency on alcohol and drugs.
“I would say that 20 to 30 percent of people we are seeing, especially in our outpatient programs are attributing this increase in anxiety to the current pandemic," Nicolas said.
The doctor said Sharp addiction recovery programs have remained open during the pandemic, but many services are done virtually. Patients in outpatient programs are seen at least once per week in person and also participate in video conference groups and individual therapy. Other services, such as detoxification and residential programs, remain in person.
In this time, Dr. Nicolas said we can all help by checking in with one another during this time. Loved ones of those with substance abuse disorders should recognize warning signs, like a shift in behavior, interests, mood, sleep, weight and hygiene.
“I am worried,” said Nicolas, “because if we don't work together, you're still going to see us isolating and when we isolate bad things happen that that's going to translate to more substance abuse problems.”
If a loved one is in dire and immediate need, Nicolas said you should call 911 or take the person directly to an ER. In the case of a possible opioid overdose, if you have it, administer naloxone, the medication designed to rapidly reverse an overdose.