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COVID-19 Compounds The Struggle of Addiction During Pandemic

The novel coronavirus is creating many complications and hardships to current daily life. One often overlooked challenge faced by families and individuals is struggling with substance abuse and addiction issues.

Covid-19 is putting more stress on families and people already dealing with addiction as the taxing physical and emotional burdens of unemployment, isolation, boredom, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hunger mount. These issues are especially intensified for children of families dealing with addiction,.

In Vinton County, Ohio child abuse reports are down by 48%, according to prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown, but that decline is likely due to the fact that children are no longer able to go to school, church, and other places from where reports of abuse would normally come. Many teachers in Vinton County are making efforts to reach out to children and families in order to maintain an important personal connection, but that does little to change the fact that many children in households dealing with addiction are not being fed or clothed properly and are often being mistreated.

Food insecurity is another tremendous issue facing families across the country, particularly those with addiction issues. Children who typically received two hot meals a day from school no longer have access to them. Schools are trying to provide bagged lunches for kids, but hunger and food insecurity continue to loom.

For many communities like Vinton County which has been a major hub of the opioid crisis for several years, isolation is not a new phenomenon. However, the new social restrictions imposed due to the pandemic are enhancing challenges of life by causing more stress and mental health issues and for many, using is a coping method.

Due to social distancing rules, AA and NA meetings have been cancelled or moved online, but not everyone has access to internet or computers, and the benefits of in-person therapy sessions are not easily replaced. Isolation is even harder for people struggling with sobriety because group support is so important and people in recovery are told not to isolate themselves, but now have no choice otherwise.

Addiction experts are concerned that what the pandemic is doing to those battling addiction will lead to more overdoses and overdose-related deaths, both of which have been declining in recent years until the pandemic hit. The pandemic is affecting people in all spheres of the addiction community, from those who attend AA and NA meetings, to those who receive addiction treatment medication from clinics, to those who live on the street and rely on clean syringes provided by community aid workers.

While some support networks and even the federal government have begun to act by issuing new regulations and guidelines for people with addiction issues, more still needs to be done. According to Dr. Dave Fiellin, an addiction medicine expert at the Yale School of Medicine, doctors will need to loosen office rules to allow patients to get the addiction medications they need. Drug courts will need to adjust procedures as well because thousands of people have to submit to regular urine screenings or attend meetings in order to avoid incarceration. AA and NA meetings should have more accessible online and phone meetings and should take into consideration those who might not be able to access them but still need help and support. Programs created to help people without housing should not be closed or limited because that puts those people at an even higher risk of overdose and overdose death.

Sources: NPR 04/29/20, New York Times 03/26/20

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