If our nation’s frontline healthcare workers continue to be driven by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic to the point of high levels of mental health and substance use/abuse issues, who will the general public turn to for healthcare support?
Unfortunately, this is already a valid question our country’s leaders need to be asking themselves, according to a number of recent studies.
A 10/20/21 report from the AMA’s Advocacy Resource Center, begins, “The nation’s COVID pandemic made the nation’s drug overdose epidemic worse,” going on to chronicle many ways in which substance use disorders have rapidly increased during the worldwide viral epidemic.
And to compound matters, a 5/20/21 study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the prevalence among healthcare workers of significant levels of anxiety and depression—considered to be among the most common risk factors contributing to substance use disorders—has only risen during the current pandemic.
Indeed, for those doctors, nurses, hospital staff and innumerable other frontline healthcare workers, the inability to avoid the coronavirus by staying at home and the consequential increased risk of getting sick can easily be seen as a stress-inducing fact-of-the-job, day in and day out. And in putting their own lives on the line to help the people in their community, they’re making themselves vulnerable to high levels of anxiety, depression, substance use and abuse, as well as insomnia, burnout and other stress-related mental health disorders.
Due to the rising levels of substance use disorders and drug overdoses among healthcare workers—spawned in part by the isolation and economic upheaval facing essential workers on the frontline—expanding treatment options and harm reduction services for physicians, nurses and other frontline professionals in the healthcare fields is essential.
In an article titled, “The Hidden Epidemic Among Our Frontline Heroes,” Jackie Daniels, working with the Indiana Center for Recovery, states, “Problems finding and accessing effective treatment for frontline workers include stigma from the community, fear of job loss, thinking treatment won’t work, denying they have a problem or financial concerns. So, where can these heroes turn when they are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction?”
She adds that frontline healthcare workers focusing 24/7 on helping others in often dire, life-threatening situations may eventually experience not just substance use disorders, but any of a number of other mental health issues, including:
- Severe Anxiety
- Co-occurring disorders
The potential value of expanding access to treatment for all frontline healthcare workers who’re facing such issues cannot be overstated. Increasing access to treatment—especially addiction treatment centers specializing in helping professional healthcare workers find recovery—would allow this indispensable part of our nation to learn new tools to address the challenges they face, including the essentials about both addiction and recovery, which can be life-saving game-changers for those men and women “in the trenches” of the healthcare field.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, providing greater opportunities to doctors, nurses and others in the medical field to address any mental health and/or addiction issues must be placed higher on the agenda of our government’s leaders and policymakers. Otherwise, who will we be able to call upon when we ourselves are facing health-related challenges, whether COVID-19-related or literally any other sickness or life-threatening ailment?
 The Hidden Epidemic Among Our Frontline Heroes – Indiana Center for Recovery (treatmentindiana.com)