With the ongoing attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms, prevention tips, and resources – especially, since the implications of COVID-19 for substance abusers can be significantly more severe.
COVID-19 is transmitted or spread to other people by droplets of saliva or mucus when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be transmitted by touching objects that are contaminated with these droplets containing the virus and then touching your mouth or nose.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary greatly in people who are infected. Symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Shortness of breath
Some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms at all while others with the virus develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or sepsis that can result in death.
Like symptoms of the virus, the recovery time from COVID-19 also varies a lot from person-to-person. Early projections suggest the recovery rate from the virus is between 97% to 99.75%. Recovery time can take 2-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the illness.
Higher Risks Associated With COVID-19 For Substance Abusers
The higher risks associated with COVID-19 for substance abusers are related to the behaviors of this disorder. Because the virus attacks the lungs, people who vape or smoke marijuana or tobacco are more vulnerable to becoming quite ill with COVID-19. Also, if cigarettes, joints or inhalation devices are shared with other people, the virus can be passed to another person.
The risks of COVID-19 for drug users with high-dose opioid or methamphetamine use are higher as well. Severe illness and complications from the virus are more likely because these drugs affect the lungs and respiratory system. Misuse of opioids has been found to weaken the immune system while methamphetamines narrow blood vessels which can damage the lungs.
Chronic medical conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are also more common in substance abusers who smoke crack cocaine or heroin. Using these substances and having these medical conditions and COVID-19 puts a person at much greater risk of severe illness.
In addition, chronic medical conditions such as hepatitis, liver cancers, and HIV are more common in substance abusers. These chronic conditions weaken the immune system putting a person at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Substance abusers with the virus who use opioids like heroin may have a higher risk of overdosing. This is because opioids cause a person’s breathing to slow down and even stop if a high enough dose is taken. And the virus attacks the lungs and can make breathing difficult. This combination could lead to a fatal overdose.
Crowded environments where social distancing is not possible or not practiced may also put substance abusers at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. This is because substance abusers are more likely to be in crowded environments when they:
- Use recreational drugs with others
- Attend drug treatment centers or social services for substance abusers where social distancing is difficult
- Live homeless and often in public spaces without easy access to facilities for personal hygiene or in prison
People with substance use disorders also face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to financial reasons. Substance abusers are more likely to have insecure housing, less access to healthcare and medications, and less money for personal hygiene items putting them at higher risk of acquiring the virus.
Stigmatization of substance abusers in healthcare may result in higher risks related to COVID-19 for drug users when healthcare resources are already stretched thin due to the outbreak. Decreased access to healthcare may result in less access to medications, syringes, and support services needed by these people.
Prevention of COVID-19 For Substance Abusers
Because of the higher risks associated with COVID-19 for drug users, preventing the infection in this group of people is critical. Substance abusers can protect themselves and reduce their chances of getting the virus by doing the following:
- Practice social distancing as much as possible (stay 6 ft. away from people)
- Wear a cloth mask or scarf that covers your nose and mouth
- Do not share inhalation devices, syringes, or other drug-use devices
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds
- Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put the tissue in a trash bin after
- Cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow if no tissue is available
- Get a flu shot to help prevent getting sick from influenza or needing to seek healthcare for the flu where others with COVID-19 may be
- Wear gloves and a mask or something to cover your face when helping others who are sick to prevent getting sick
- Wash your hands before putting gloves on and after taking gloves off
Ensuring Access to Needed Supplies and Services
Substance abusers face the risk of not being able to get the supplies, medications, and health services they need as they did before COVID-19 due to the increased demand on the healthcare system during this crisis. However, here are some ways you can help ensure you have what you need:
- Ask health providers for a month’s supply of medication if possible during COVID-19
- Ask pharmacists to get your prescription refills by phone if possible
- Ask your local syringe services program (SSP) for enough injecting equipment and syringes to stock up for 2-4 weeks (keeping in mind they may have shortages because of COVID-19)
- Stock up on your “drug of choice” due to possible shortages while keeping safety in mind when you have this much drug with you
- Prepare for possible shortage of opioid drugs by buying over-the-counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol, ibuprofen, and Imodium to help manage any withdrawal side effects
- Ask your local SSP about telephone access to counseling and support services during COVID-19
For more information about our services, please phone us at (719) 373-9703. Achieve Whole Recovery is offering uninterrupted Medication Addiction Treatment (MAT) services during COVID-19 and would be happy to assist you with your recovery!
COVID-19 Guidance for People Who Use Drugs