Potential Risks for People With Substance Use Disorder during COVID - 19
- Apr 20, 2020
Speculations about a link between drug addiction and COVID-19 has grown in recent weeks. The National Institute on Drug Abuse wrote on its blog that people with substance-use disorders, including those who vape, could be especially hard-hit by COVID-19. Everywhere in internet, fringe theories with and without scientific evidence have popped up making connections between drug addiction and COVID-19.
The world statistics shows that deaths and serious illness from COVID-19 are concentrated among older people and people with health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, and respiratory conditions. It is therefore reasonable to be concerned that lung function or lung disease related to smoking history, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), could put people at risk for serious complications of COVID-19.
Vaping, like smoking, may also harm lung health. While some studies have shown that vaping can lead to lung damage and other health problems, the products have not been on the market long enough to speak confidently about their long-term effects. Having a preexisting condition—especially one related to respiratory health—increases the chances that someone will experience complications from COVID-19, so it’s reasonable to think vaping could play a part. But since scientists can’t say for sure that vaping leads to lung disease or other chronic conditions, it’s also difficult to say whether it opens people up to more risks associated with COVID-19.
People who use opioids face separate challenges to their respiratory health. Since opioids act in the brainstem to slow breathing, their use 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). Lack of oxygen can be especially damaging to the brain; while brain cells can withstand short periods of low oxygen, they can suffer damage when this state persists. Chronic respiratory disease is already known to increase overdose mortality risk among people taking opioids, and thus diminished lung capacity from COVID-19 could similarly endanger this population.
A history of methamphetamine use may also put people at risk. Methamphetamine constricts the blood vessels, which is one of the properties that contributes to pulmonary damage and pulmonary hypertension in people who use it. Clinicians should be prepared to monitor the possible adverse effects of methamphetamine use, the prevalence of which is increasing in our country, when treating those with COVID-19.
Other risks for people with substance use disorders include decreased access to health care, housing insecurity, and greater likelihood for incarceration. Limited access to health care places people with addiction at greater risk for many illnesses, but if hospitals and clinics are pushed to their capacity, it could be that people with addiction—who are already stigmatized and underserved by the healthcare system—will experience even greater barriers to treatment for COVID-19. Homelessness or incarceration can expose people to environments where they are in close contact with others who might also be at higher risk for infections. The prospect of self-quarantine and other public health measures may also disrupt access to syringe services, medications, and other support needed by people with OUD.
We know very little right now about COVID-19 and even less about its intersection with substance use disorders. But we can make educated guesses based on past experience that people with compromised health due to smoking or vaping and people with opioid, methamphetamine, cannabis, and other substance use disorders could find themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 and its more serious complications—for multiple physiological and social/environmental reasons. The research community should thus be alert to associations between COVID-19 case severity/mortality and substance use, smoking or vaping history, and smoking- or vaping-related lung disease. We must also ensure that patients with substance use disorders are not discriminated against if a rise in COVID-19 cases places added burden on our healthcare system.
As we strive to confront the major health challenges of opioid and other drug overdoses—and now the rising infections with COVID-19—NIDA encourages researchers to request supplements that will allow them to obtain data on the risks for COVID-19 in individuals experiencing substance use disorders.
Hathaway Recovery will remain open and accepting new patients in needs who struggles from addiction .
The ultimate goal of treatment is to achieve sobriety, but the means of getting there varies depending on the individual and his or her needs. Like the individuals who struggle, each situation is unique.
Hathaway Recovery client-centered, holistic treatment, recognizes this. That’s why we integrate a wide range of diverse, engaging treatment methods to ensure your best chance at success in sobriety. With our program, you or your loved one will have the opportunity to address substance abuse and mental health needs with a cohesive treatment plan that’s just for you.