York County Medicine Summer 2020 - 34

YO R K C O M E D S O C . O R G

FEATURES:

DANGEROUS INTERSECTION

COVID-19 AND SUBSTANCE
PANDEMIC
USE EPIDEMIC
By: Brittany Shutz, Executive Director
York Opioid Collaborative

W

hile much of the conversation has been around
mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the opioid
and substance use epidemic continues to impact
communities across Pennsylvania, including York. The COVID-19
pandemic and the opioid epidemic are intersecting in ways that
are deadly and additively harmful to progress made. Since the
inception of quarantine measures in York County, drug-related
deaths have been on the rise, doubling the amount we saw in
2019 at this time (April 2020- 22 vs. April 2019- 10). Growing
economic pressures, disruptions in daily routine, isolation and
fear are exacerbating the already devastating opioid epidemic. To
understand how COVID-19 is impacting the opioid and substance
use epidemic in our community, we must recognize the full scope of
the problem, including healthcare, economic and social factors.
Individuals with substance use disorder are among those
vulnerable to COVID-19. If they contract the virus, they could
face greater risk due to negative effects on their respiratory system
from substance use. Amid this, they are also vulnerable due to
the disruptions and challenges being placed on their recovery.
Addiction is often referred to as a disease of isolation, so to
counteract that it is highly encouraged for individuals in recovery
to surround themselves with a supportive recovery community.
COVID-19 quarantine measures are changing the way people with
substance use disorders access treatment and social supports. Group
supports, coupled with individual therapy, and medications are a
crucial element to the recovery process of many. As COVID-19
has cancelled in-person gatherings, many more virtual-meeting
options have become available and the utilization of telemedicine
for drug and alcohol treatment. Although we are seeing some
success with telemedicine for behavioral health, it is important to
recognize that for some this was not a voluntary option and they
may be struggling. The need to support individuals with substance
use disorders has never been more important.
In addition, many people are out of work and the economic
stress is a risk factor for substance use. The uncertainty of being
able to pay bills, purchase food and other necessities is difficult for
any person, but the psychological distress can be even more difficult
for a person with substance use disorder. Employment is important
not just for economic reasons, but the structure and routine it
provides. The disruption to this routine can lead to increased
anxiety and a trigger for relapse.
34

York County Medicine | SUMMER 2020

From a preventative standpoint, we are bracing for the
potentially dangerous impact COVID-19 will have on children, as
they face unprecedented change to their routine. Food insecurity,
abuse, lack of parental supervision, and trauma are among some
of the issues facing our youth, all of which are risk factors for
substance use. It is important we continue to address the growing
mental health concerns among our youth and provide adequate
support and healthy coping mechanisms.
Physicians play a critical role in prevention and early
identification of substance use. Safe prescribing of controlled
substances including conversations about risk factors, safe storage,
safe disposal, and early identification of inappropriate use play
a significant part in reducing opioid addiction. With the delay
of elective medical procedures due to COVID-19, there is the
potential for an uptick in duration of prescribing of controlled
substances. It is vital that patients are well-informed about the
risk factors associated with opioids and alternative modalities to
cope with pain. In addition, patients that are receiving opioids and
other controlled substances should be educated about safe storage
and proper disposal of the medication. With the more children
at home, the potential for accidental poisoning by young children
increases and experimentation by children to cope with stressors
increases.
It is crucial we recognize that addiction does not stop during a
pandemic. We must not forget the ongoing work needed to address
the opioid and substance use epidemic in our community. Herein
lies the work of the York Opioid Collaborative. The York Opioid
Collaborative's mission is to reduce overdoses and to minimize the
impact of the opioid and substance use epidemic in our community.
COVID-19 is placing added and unwanted challenges to the opioid
epidemic, emphasizing the on-going need for a comprehensive,
cross-sector approach to combat the opioid epidemic. The
York Opioid Collaborative continues its working to drive this
approach and our work is far from complete. Together, we must
continue to examine the factors currently impacting addiction
in our community and develop evidence-based interventions in
response. We must continue to educate the community on the
disease of addiction and the availability of treatment services. As a
community, we must come together to support those struggling and
promote an environment supportive of recovery.


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York County Medicine Summer 2020

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