Protecting yourself and those around you is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a professional in healthcare, law, or the airline industry, you are in contact with people every day, many of whom depend on you for their own health and safety. The dangers of the coronavirus are multiplied when you or those around you have a substance use disorder. What’s your COVID-19 action plan? Now is a good time to put one in place.
A recent National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study analyzed the non-identifiable electronic health records (EHR) of millions of patients in the United States. The team of investigators revealed that while individuals with a substance use disorder (SUD) constituted 10.3% of the total study population, they represented 15.6% of the COVID-19 cases.
The analysis revealed that those with a recent substance use disorder diagnosis on record were more likely than those without the diagnosis to develop COVID-19, an effect that was strongest for opioid use disorder, followed by tobacco use disorder. Individuals with an SUD diagnosis were also more likely to experience worse COVID-19 outcomes (such as hospitalization or death) than people without an SUD.
The study population consisted of over 73 million patients, of which over 7.5 million had been diagnosed with an SUD at some point in their lives. Slightly more than 12,000 were diagnosed with COVID-19, and about 1,880 had both an SUD and a COVID-19 diagnosis on record. The types of SUDs investigated in the study were tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis, and cocaine.
The findings suggest that health care providers should closely monitor patients with SUDs and develop action plans to help shield them from infection and severe outcomes. In addition, professionals such as attorneys and airline pilots should have a COVID-19 action plan to protect themselves and those that are in their care.
Opioids and COVID-19
Opioids negatively impact lung and heart health, so people who use opioids at high doses may be more susceptible to COVID-19 and the illness may be more severe. People who have an opioid use disorder also face separate challenges to their respiratory health. Opioids act in the brainstem to slow breathing, which not only puts the user at risk of life-threatening or fatal overdose, it may also cause a harmful decrease in oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia).
While brain cells can function for short periods of low oxygen, longer periods with low or no oxygen can be especially damaging to the brain. Chronic respiratory disease can increase deadly overdose risk among people taking opioids, and diminished lung capacity from COVID-19 could similarly endanger this group.
If You Have a Substance Use Disorder
For your protection and for the protection of those around you, the NIDA suggests that you:
- Stay as safe as possible from contracting COVID-19 by following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidance.
- Call your doctor if you experience symptoms of COVID-19. Individuals with an SUD may be at higher risk for serious effects.
- If you are in treatment for substance use, maintain contact with your provider. Learn how the necessary COVID-19 distancing policies impact your treatment to ensure you continue with care.
- Learn effective coping strategies and attend virtual recovery meetings. It is normal to experience stress during this difficult time, but stress can also increase substance use. These strategies can reduce the impact of stress and fear, and alleviate anxiety, depression, and other difficult emotions.
When you are in addiction treatment, it is especially important that you develop a COVID-19 action plan to protect yourself and to maintain your health throughout the pandemic. CDC guidance will help you and those in your care stay safe as you adhere to these basic steps:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick within your household.
- Avoid close contact outside your home with people who don’t live in your household. Put at least six feet of space between you and others.
- Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Most importantly, continue your addiction treatment. Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic also involves remaining free of the drugs and alcohol that can compromise your physical and mental health.
Providence Provides Safe Telehealth Options During COVID-19
At Providence Treatment, we want to ensure you have the recovery resources you need, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. We use a telehealth technology that enables us to remain HIPAA-compliant and ensures your confidentiality is maintained, while also giving you the high quality addiction and mental health treatment you need now to maintain your health and well-being. If you need help, contact us at 484.469.9592.