In the midst of the chaos, it’s common to focus on the crisis at large to the point of neglecting the specific impacts it can have on the healthcare industry. This article follows my attempt at an objective analysis of the situation and will breakdown my most straightforward personal concerns of how COVID-19 could impact drug addicts and society as a whole for consideration in our response to the expanding quarantine efforts as it relates to addicts and ongoing treatment of those struggling.
My path to this train of thought started during a live stream on my second channel where I was told by my viewers many rehabs closed their admissions and people couldn’t get treatment. I shared this dilemma with friends who work in the industry and they eased my initial concerns by notifying me that rehabs are taking admissions currently, and some of these treatment facilities are located in the State of California which as of March 20th are locked down in an attempt to inhibit the rapid spread of coronavirus.
After deliberation, I started to consider that in states where this pandemic is hitting us the hardest people whose immune system are compromised due to chemical dependency are still going into a facility that is focused on social connection — not social distancing while simultaneously the staff is entering and exiting the facility daily without government regulation during an emergency shutdown.
I’ve had several employees reach out to me and express utter shock and disappointment because there’s no screening at the front door, some of the staff are careless, and they’re being pushed by management to manipulate recovering addicts to stay in treatment during a pandemic. An example of what this looks like is an addict in treatment expresses a desire to leave due to a reasonable concern of contracting coronavirus in their care then an employee will not only invalidate the patient’s concern but will also focus on the narrative that they could relapse advertently pushing them to stay in treatment so the facility doesn’t lose business. Many of these workers have resigned from their job due to moral conflict with management.
The problem is the addict can be right in this scenario, addiction is an underlying illness that can make them vulnerable by compromising the immune system – they are in a dangerous situation. Their concerns should be validated, owners of the facilities should express concern themselves for the clients and staff but sadly they don’t always do. Furthermore, staff going into an environment focused on social connection, not social distancing, where many could gather in group therapy sessions without everyone using scarce protective equipment (masks, gloves, sanitizer, etc.) then the employees going out or addicts leaving treatment could put society at risk. Wouldn’t this defeat the purpose of the lockdown?
Owners and/or managers of these facilities rationalize continued careless engagement which can cause serious negative repercussions by saying “there aren’t that many cases in our state” even though testing is currently limited in their state of operation. We don’t know how many cases there are in a state where they test 200 people a day.
I’m sure some treatment facilities are good actors, I can’t speak for all of them or even a majority, but with no regulation placed on them even one bad actor can cause substantial damage.
Drug Addicts Could Lose Access to Substances they Physically Need to Survive the Pandemic
Now for the obvious red flag – drug addicts could be put into a situation where they’re forced to detox and emergency healthcare is running out of room for patients. An obvious reason for an influx of addicts being forced into acute withdrawal is growing financial strain from unemployment disabling them to fund their addiction.
Another potential problem is with shutdowns starting to limit citizens to only essential travel and in many states liquor isn’t sold at grocery stores due to regulation. Alcohol detox can be lethal causing seizures even in people even without extreme cases of the disease. Liquor becoming unavailable leaving only beer or wine as an option is not only more expensive relative to alcohol/dollar causing financial limitations of supporting their habit – some of the more extreme alcoholics simply can’t get enough beer or wine in them physically to avoid a detox.
With this being a global pandemic access to illicit drugs that are trafficked across the world will be limited from restrictions on international travel. Opiates, cocaine, and other addictive substances will suddenly stop becoming available. This can cause many people to go into a state of sudden acute detox which by itself is extremely uncomfortable, dangerous, and in combination with a respiratory illness can serve as being more-likely lethal. This can severely impact the homeless population, particularly where addiction is rampant.
And all of these people who need medical treatment for acute withdrawal syndrome won’t be able to access emergency care from strain on the healthcare system and physical debilitation.
My Personal Opinion of How this Should be Handled
After observing this scenario there is no easy answer and I am not an expert on the subject. That being said, in my opinion, the best thing we could do is offer emergency care at drug rehabilitation facilities exclusively for medically assisted detox where the addict is quarantined, the staff is limited, and necessary precautions are taken. The focus would be on making the patient as comfortable as they can and avoiding death through medications administered by a professional. Residential inpatient or outpatient programs serve no purpose if all the clients are isolated from each other and staff due to their focus on recovery through social connection. If anything, those programs should be administered online through video conference applications to protect the welfare of the vulnerable and society at large. When there is a shutdown liquor should be marked as essential travel remaining to be open in order to prevent widespread alcohol detox.
This is some food for thought on a topic I once overlooked, share it with someone if you believe they need to hear it or can help in any way.
Here are some resources for remote support for addiction recovery accessible from home:
Philip Markoff (Associate of Science) is an online influencer and thought leader on addiction education; he is known as his alias “CG Kid” who’s obtained a large audience primarily on YouTube as a vlogger and journalist. His current sobriety date from polysubstance chemical dependency is June 9th, 2013.