The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on opioid users as overdoses in the United States have increased by 18% since quarantine orders were issued in March. *** Depression, lockdowns, anxiety, unemployment, deaths, and erratic news stories have all been factors in the spike of these numbers.

So, now that we have experienced this pandemic, once it’s over will the COVID vaccinations work? Most opioid addiction treatments (OUD-Opioid Use Disorder) include methadone and Suboxone for long term management of what is known to be a chronic disease. 

More than forty states have reported a steep increase in opioid-related deaths. Mental health issues have been heaped on drug users as they turn to illegal drugs to cope with the pandemic. The federal government is providing assistance for treatment options but states are responsible for providing and monitoring treatments to people to avoid leaving their homes, to avoid congregating in clinics, because of fears of COVID, and due to mandates to reduce exposure risk. Maryland, where Concerted Care Group is based, had a slight increase in deaths from drug and alcohol intoxication during the first quarter of 2020 as the lockdown was getting underway.

Opioids, however, caused almost 90% of the fatalities in Maryland during the first half of 2020. The synthetic opioid fentanyl killed 1,100, or 83% of “overall cases”, a 12% uptick from 2019.

What are we to make of these statistics? How can we possibly reduce opioid-related fatalities during a pandemic? 

There are ways we can help friends and loved ones who are struggling during this time. Here are five ways you help:

  1. If you notice someone you work with or employ is continually renewing an opioid prescription for lower back pain – please work together with employers, friends, and health insurance consultants to ensure we plan and design programs to meet employees’ underlying health conditions. They should also be assigned a treatment counselor to follow the course of their care.
  2. Employees should not flush their unused prescriptions or throw them away as this is a hazard, both environmentally, and to those who may come in contact with controlled substances inadvertently. Instead, distribute drug deactivation and disposal pouches for scientifically proven, safe, at-home drug disposal.
  3. Employee education programs that explain opioid addiction, treatment, and safe drug storage and disposal should be implemented. 
  4. Make individuals who are prescribed controlled substances accountable by visiting them at least weekly to make sure they are not relapsing into addiction. If they are not a member of Narcotics Anonymous, they need to get a sponsor and join as soon as possible. Ask a physician for a referral to a medical professional in addiction medicine. Then, take the patient in for treatment yourself. Asking them to go on their own may be too great a step to do.
  5. Be encouraging.  Let your friend or loved one know that opioid addiction can be managed successfully, even during a pandemic. Don’t be confrontational. Be compassionate and strong. Insist that they get help and that you and others will be with them from the consultation with the physician to the treatment. Studies have shown that support goes a long way.

The COVID-19 pandemic has a complicated life and opioid addicts have paid the price. Many of them have hit new lows and have suffered. But, even in these times, there is help and recovery. Substance abuse is a treatable disease and recovery is possible.

The Concerted Care Group of Central Baltimore, MD, and Brooklyn, MD, has a compassionate Behavioral Health team that includes therapists, psychiatric care, and nurse practitioners. Services include individual and family therapy for adults and adolescents. Group therapy and psychiatric services are available for adults.

Contact us at (833) CCG-LIVE to make an appointment. 

For more information on how the COVID pandemic has affected Opioid users, click here.