Treating the Secondary COVID-19 Epidemic: Drug Overdoses
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By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC
Many research studies and articles have been confirming what many addiction professionals have been fearing- that the pandemic is leading to an increase in drug overdose deaths. There is an existing overdose epidemic that is now being exacerbated by so many variables that include: job loss, economic instability, social isolation, grief, lack of daily structure and purpose, increases in domestic violence, school closures, decrease of in person self-help meeting and treatment, increases in mental health symptoms and more.
Much of the COVID-19 prevention efforts have, rightfully so, focused on the medical aspect of the virus. However, the secondary effects are surfacing and need to be addressed to avoid additional loss of lives. Given that this is an unprecedented time, there has not been a perfect way to manage all of the unique challenges that individuals and families are facing during this time. In fact, it seems that the stressors that people are experiencing vary greatly.
It is important that people have access to innovative and flexible addiction treatment during this time, given the limitations of in-person care. The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model was designed to work with clients and their families in their home environment but has been able to adapt to the telemedicine needs of the pandemic. Additionally, families do not know where to begin when reaching out for help for their loved ones. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to get those with substance use disorders treatment immediately. The IHAT model streamlines the treatment process and organizes it in a way that relieves clients and their families of the stress in locating and coordinating services that would be appropriate for their loved ones.
During this vulnerable time, those who are vulnerable to addiction should be seeking preventative treatment instead of waiting until their symptoms progress. Loved ones should also be supporting those in need of help for mood symptoms or an increase in substance usage. Anxiety, depressive and other mood disorders can lead people to self-medicate with substances if not properly treated. Substance usage in turn may worsen mental health symptoms.
The IHAT Institute is now training addiction treatment professionals in this model, which is now being utilized in over 5 states and growing. We have learned from this pandemic that treatment needs to be flexible. It is beneficial for addiction treatment professionals to be well versed in a treatment model that will allow them to reach clients where they are at emotionally, spiritually and physically. This model now includes Medication Assisted Treatment administration, which is evidence-based in the treatment of addiction and has also played an integral part in overdose prevention process. . While the latest research on the increase in drug overdoses may be grim, we need to stay focused on solutions and advances in addiction treatment that are equipped to address this epidemic.