As people are overwhelmed with the flood of information and media attention that’s come with the coronavirus, or COVID-19, many are concerned about if and how they will survive.
Others may be experiencing another set of emotions, perhaps a skepticism or mild frustration with what may seem to be an overreaction due to media sensationalism. Despite which side of this coin you find yourself on, there are some undeniable facts.
The virus exists and is spreading rapidly.
There is a pattern that, within heavily affected areas, health-care systems become overwhelmed and don’t have enough space or equipment to treat everyone effectively.
Some people do die, especially those who are elderly and/or have other underlying health conditions. The virus attacks the respiratory system, and those who die do so mainly from respiratory failure.
One thing that’s not being discussed is the impact of this pandemic on those who struggle with drug addiction. The virus is so novel, and we know so little about it, that there’s no data on this relationship or its potential. But given what we do already know about addiction, and what we’ve learned so far about COVID-19, we can at least make some key implications.
The potential for people addicted to drugs to contract the virus is likely higher than those who don’t.
People who use drugs live a riskier lifestyle. Often, the drugs they consume are from an unknown source and have gone through countless hands and even different countries.
Current evidence suggests that the virus remains viable on surfaces and materials for anywhere from hours to days. So this means that anything from the packaging to the drug itself has the potential to be contaminated with COVID-19.
Many drug users ingest the drugs orally or via the nasal cavity, which are obvious routes of infection. Those who use drugs intravenously may be at even higher risk due to direct inoculation.
Those who smoke substances may feel safer, since the virus wouldn’t survive combustion temperatures, but they may be in an even higher-risk category than the aforementioned groups.
Since the virus attacks the lung tissue, smokers of any substance could be more susceptible to infection and have a lower survival rate. This is because smoking or inhaling vapors regularly has been shown to compromise the ability of the lungs to fight such infections. This is true of everything from cigarettes to methamphetamines.
Opioid users may be at double the risk due to two factors: one being the above listed ingestion methods and the other being the physiological effects of the drug itself.
As a central-nervous-system depressant, opioids reduce lung function. This reduction is what’s responsible for overdose mortality.
Since we know that COVID-19 attacks the lungs and diminishes their capacity, anyone infected with the virus who also abuses opioids is likely be at higher risk of mortality from overdose.
Additionally, opioid users experience an increased rate of pneumonia due to their chronically depressed lung function. Contracting pneumonia in this way would certainly place one in that “underlying condition” category that would ultimately increase mortality risk from the virus should they contract it.
If they’re admitted to the hospital for pneumonia treatment without the virus, they’ll likely meet criteria for COVID-19 screening and isolation due to the similarity of symptoms, which could mean a two-week stay and painful opioid-withdrawal symptoms.
As you can see, regardless of which drug a person may use, the risk is increased.
And since there really isn’t such thing as a “safe” drug, the same is even more true when in comes to the addition of COVID-19.
There could easily be an argument made that substance-use disorder be considered one of the underlying conditions that increases the risk of mortality with the virus.
With this in mind, anything you can do to curb or treat drug addiction could give one a substantially better chance of survival during trying times like these.
Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with substance abuse for over 20 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug-rehabilitation center in 2000. During his five years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed, and saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise, he utilized his website, Addicted.org, and community outreach as a way to spread awareness. His main focuses are threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation.