Given the “double-whammy” for those trying to get and stay sober/clean from a substance abuse disorder, while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of local medical detox centers can mean the difference between life and death for many.
Fortunately, many of the centers that closed or significantly limited their services when the coronavirus first broke out nationwide are reopening or resuming their full detox services. And clearly, those services are sorely needed.
A recent study by Well Being Trust and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates the current coronavirus pandemic could push drug-related deaths and suicides to between 75,000 – 150,000 lives, factoring in isolation and uncertainty.
“We see very troubling signs across the nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services and head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. “There’s more substance abuse, more overdoses, more domestic violence and more neglect and abuse of children.”
McCance-Katz said the agency wants more money for services to address the surge in need for mental health and addiction treatment, which was already in short supply. She cited HHS’ own substance abuse and mental health research and a February report in the British journal The Lancet on the psychological effects of quarantine.
What can be reassuring to those considering entering detox (and/or treatment) for alcohol or drugs is the widespread adherence to strict COVID-19 protocols being practiced by treatment center staff, in order to make detox and treatment services available, while also maintaining staff and patient safety.
Precautions typically in place include practicing social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, regular sanitation of common area surfaces, and COVID-19 testing of all new patients, as well as for any patients or staff members with symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., a fever, cough or shortness of breath).
Dr. Christian Hopfer, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Colorado School of Medicine said, “Detox services are considered critical, so we need to be focused on making them available. Suddenly stopping drinking or halting drug use can be very dangerous. A detox facility allows patients to safely stop using alcohol and drugs. Withdrawing from alcohol or opioids can take two to five days and easing off of other drugs can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month.”
Hopfer added that people with substance use disorders “are clearly under duress as the pandemic worsens. The forced isolation, job losses and economic challenges that have come with the COVID-19 crisis all are likely to make things more challenging for people already coping with excessive use of alcohol and drugs.”
For those who find themselves considering detox and/or treatment for alcohol or drugs, or for those who’re recognizing they’re drinking excessively, the professional advice of those experienced in alcohol and drug detox, as well as addiction treatment, is clear: Get some help, because problems can arise if you try to stop drinking or using drugs on your own.
“If you’re having any kinds of symptoms of withdrawal, such as feeling shaky, you should probably call a detox center or your primary care doctor to get some advice about whether you should come in for a medically-supervised detox,” Hopfer said.
And for those who have recently stopped drinking or using drugs—since they are at risk for relapse during the forced isolation and uncertainty of the current pandemic—it would be wise to strengthen the foundation of recovery in as many ways as possible, adhering to whatever was learned in “the early days” of recovery, including one’s detox period.