Rural Addicts Face Withdrawal During Covid-19 Pandemic

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People who work in Alabama rehabs and recovery centers for substance use disorders may be noticing a spike in admissions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts have recently published a research article that may shed light on why admissions may be increasing. The first thing to note is that there have unfortunately been many closures due to Covid-19 outbreaks. The closing of one or more rehabs in a rural Alabama area would obviously tend to increase admissions to the facilities in the area that stay open. However, there are other factors beyond that obvious closure issue that people should be aware of. 

There are three main factors that the authors of the new study believe would disproportionately affect people with addiction during the current crisis. One is the closing of borders, and the travel restrictions that go along with the Covid-19 lockdowns. The border to Mexico is not as open as in normal times, and imports from China have seen a sharp decline since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, making drug shipments that come from both of those countries rarer. We know from many studies that a huge portion of the United States illicit drugs come from China and Mexico, and this is especially true when talking about opiates. I should note that for the rest of the article I will be mainly referring to illicit opiates and opiates in general, as opiates are the main class of drugs that send people into withdrawal sickness.

The second major factor that is sending addicts into withdrawal and into rehabs and treatment facilities is the loss of jobs. The country has seen an unprecedented spike in the unemployment rate, and for people with substance use disorder, that often means an inability to pay for the drugs they need each day to avoid withdrawal syndrome. The authors note that very few people with opiate addictions keep more than a 1 or 2 day supply of drugs on hand, so a sudden loss of jobs and income would disproportionately affect those people in a negative way, as they are forced to deal with the loss of income while being miserably ill without a supply of the opiates that they are dependent on. The authors also called this scenario “a profound drive for active drug seeking during the pandemic.” 

The other major factor discussed in the study is social distancing, which I have touched on in other articles on this topic. Drug dealers tend to meet their clients face to face. There are also many people who get their drugs from more of a friend or an acquaintance, rather than someone they consider a drug dealer per se. 

The authors sum up these problems in this way, and remember that these authors were specifically targeting people in rural communities, such as the Alabama rehab and recovery community or the Florida Panhandle, so people in Alabama who work in drug rehabilitation should take note, 

“This presents the compounding factors of an already‐stigmatized population placing an additional burden on an already‐stressed local health care system. The real concern is that PWUD needing care related to their drug use may not feel capable of accessing or obtaining needed care.”

The stigma that these people face is every day, but I have already talked about the fact that there is a possibility of more contact with first responders during the pandemic, and therefore more worry about stigma from those people who use drugs. Loss of jobs is a worry for everyone right now, but as a person who is always seeking answers to the problems that addiction disease causes, Covid-19 seems to be bringing many more problems that I did not think about in the past. If you or a loved one needs treatment for substance use disorder, please see the program page on this website.

By T.A. Cannon (Contact me at TACannonWriting@gmail.com)