If my son were alive today during the Covid-19 pandemic…..

I would fear for his life more than ever.

“Drug Overdoses Soaring: Suspected overdoses nationally jumped 18% in March, 29% in April, 42% in May, data from ambulance teams, hospitals, and police shows.”

As a young man in America who wanted more than anything to be free of his deadly heroin addiction, how would he be weathering the Covid-19 pandemic?

“The drug-overdose-and-death epidemic already was hurting communities before COVID-19, but during the pandemic there have been reports from every region of the country on spikes in opioid-related calls to first responders, visits to emergency rooms, fentanyl and tainted-drug-related overdoses. There also have been challenges to accessing sterile needle and syringe and exchange services.”

My son’s normal drug supply would be interrupted, as borders and international routes close. He would have to seek other sources and suppliers, with unknown contents and additives of synthetic opioids, leading to overdose and death. Without clean needles, he is putting himself at risk of Hepatitis C and/or AIDS. What could I do to help him make the bold step to seek treatment, instead of risking his life, while he is more anxious than ever and feeling the need to ‘nod off’?

With social distancing finally being accepted as an essential part of the battle to contain the spread of Covid-19, isolation brings another hurdle for my son. More time alone brings emotional stress and depression, triggers for increased use. What will help him during this catch-22, when it is unlikely that he will be around anyone else if he accidentally overdoses, ruling out someone being able to administer naloxone and call 911?

With the economy grinding to a halt, he has lost his job – and along with it, his health insurance. (We are the only first world nation that doesn’t have universal health coverage.) Not that it helped much – prescriptions for fighting drug addiction or any mental health problems were never covered anyway. Which has been the roadblock to his being able to fight opioid use disorder in a successful way. He’s tried 12-step programs alone, repeatedly starting over again after going through withdrawal, but when stress builds up in his life, he has relapsed. If it takes 4-5 recovery attempts and 8 years to gain 1 year of sobriety for opioid users, how do I counsel him when I know what he is up against?

Since he lives in a country that has archaic laws that criminalize and stigmatize illicit drug use, instead of a cohesive national policy that views substance use disorder (SUD) as a health problem, the fear of incarceration would be growing. Many drug courts, treatment centers, and recovery programs with drastic decreases in revenue and funding have had to shut their doors. More than 20 million people nationwide live with an SUD, yet only 10% of those affected receive treatment. Due to limited public resources for needed medical intervention and little realistic help from an almost non-existent social safety net, where would I encourage him to turn for help?

“Most people agree we need access to treatments that include medication. Unfortunately, that’s not readily available for many patients, and this epidemic will not be reversed until we deal with access issues and stigma associated with opioid misuse.” (Am Medical Assoc)

These are the problems – what are the solutions?

Emergency funding: It is essential to help keep treatment options available and funding for addiction and mental health programs.
Change in restrictions: Medical associations such as the AMA have made urgent requests to the government and to health insurance companies to change the restrictions that have kept opioid treatments like Suboxone limited and expensive.
Political Will: “The problem is a lack of political will,” said Alex H. Kral, an epidemiologist at the nonprofit research institute RTI International. Political will – yes. Although it seems normal in America, taking political “sides” should not, and does not, dictate public health policy in other nations. “We may not have a vaccine for Covid, but we actually have very effective treatments for opioid use disorder,” Kral said. “We have medication and proven interventions. It doesn’t have to play out the way we fear it will.”

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/07/01/coronavirus-drug-overdose/

https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/opioids/how-reignite-fight-against-nation-s-opioid-epidemic

https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/opioids/90-who-need-substance-use-disorder-treatment-don-t-get-it

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/07/01/coronavirus-drug-overdose/

Author: Jude DiMeglio Trang

My husband, John, and I are parents of a young opiate addict who died of an accidental heroin overdose at 25. These are our credentials for writing and working towards reversing the exponentially rising statistics for opiate addiction and deaths in our country and the world.

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