The impact of COVID-19 on addictionBy Veita Bland, M.D. / March 25, 2021
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I had the distinct pleasure of I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Dr. Louis Baxter. Dr. Baxter is an addiction specialist. He is the founder of the Professional Assistance Program of New Jersey. This is the only organization in the state of New Jersey that cares for licensed health care professionals, doctors, dentists, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners or pharmacists who have impairment from addictions such as opiates, alcohol or other impairments that would prevent them from adequately caring for their patients. He is also the co-founder of an addiction fellowship at Howard University. The only addiction fellowship at an HBCU in the country. I was curious in understanding how the world of addiction has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
His initial words to me were profound. He stated that COVID has resulted in the death of many people, who suffered with an addiction. He stated that more than 81,000 individuals had overdosed and died in the last 12 months. Let me say this again, these are people who have overdosed and died. The rate of relapse has increased and the number of people who have entered the realm of drugs have increased. He pointed out that individuals with problems of addiction have difficulty dealing with stress in good times. With the advent of COVID-19, which has increased the stresses of life through the loss of jobs, loss of income, increased isolation and loss of normalcy, we have seen an increase in the rates of addiction and relapses.
Dr. Baxter mentioned that the number of people entering programs to detoxify has decreased but the number of people relapsing and overdosing is increasing. He mentioned that the first step is to detoxify or remove the offending substance from the person involved. This is followed by intervention with appropriate therapy and then by programs that use mentors with more experience in therapeutic relationships to guide one through living without substances. This is a particularly important phase as these relationships comprise the pivotal foundation of addiction treatment programs.
With the advent of COVID-19, many treatment programs have ceased, however many programs are treating patients online. Telehealth has provided people with the ability to get help. For individuals on methadone, there have been changes that have resulted in more take home opportunities for those in treatment. A by product is that more people can be helped via Telehealth.
Addictions have increased but there is help out there. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are now online and this can be a cost-effective treatment. This is particularly important for people, who have lost their insurance with the loss of their jobs.
If you know anyone experiencing issues with substance abuse and addiction, please refer them to the aforementioned online programs. Help is there and is waiting for them. People do not have to die.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.