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pandemic escalates rural drug addiction epidemic

The US is battling dual crises in 2020. The drug addiction epidemic continues even as COVID-19 has been identified as a global pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic is contributing to an increase in addiction to drugs and alcohol in the US. In fact, given the circumstances of restricted movement and economic challenges, the pandemic is actually escalating the rural drug addiction epidemic.

The Opioid Epidemic

Opioid addiction refers to an abuse of prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Synthetic pain relievers such as fentanyl and heroin are also included as opioids. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health founds that 9.3 million adults misused prescription pain relievers at least once in the previous year, with approximately 1.3 million of those adults in a nonmetropolitan area and approximately 3 million in small metropolitan areas with a population of less than 250,000.
In 2018, the rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) increased by 10% from 2017. From 2012 through 2018, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine more than tripled and the rate for deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (drugs such as methamphetamine) increased nearly 5-fold.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the American Medical Association (AMA) has expressed its concern about an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. More than 35 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state.

COVID-19 Risks

The risk and effects of addiction has been made much worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. People who use opioids are especially vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Respiratory and pulmonary vulnerabilities, in particular, put individuals who use opioids at a higher risk for serious complications. COVID-19 typically causes serious lung complications, including acute respiratory distress syndrome. Opioids directly affect a person’s brainstem to slow breathing so the individual is at increased risk for lower oxygen levels, which can result in numerous health issues.

Rural Challenges

Drug overdose deaths are more common by population size in rural areas than in urban areas. Although the rate of opioid prescriptions is declining, rural physicians prescribe more opioids than their urban counterparts. One reason for the increase in prescriptions in rural areas is that Americans living in these areas typically report more chronic pain. They are older and are dealing with age-related pain such as that associated with arthritis. They also tend to have more injuries associated with physically demanding jobs.
The isolation that is such a huge part of the COVID-19 pandemic is also a factor in the escalated rural drug addiction epidemic. Rural residents generally live a significant distance from their neighbors and from resources such as stores, entertainment venues, and healthcare. COVID-19 has added to their isolation with most states issuing orders to stay at home and maintain safe distances from other people. Rural residents may be significantly impacted by the increasing unemployment rates as well, so they are staying home alone more than people who live in more urban areas.

Treatment Options

The isolation of rural living during the COVID-19 pandemic adds to the challenges of treating those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Most drug overdoses occur in the home and if there is no one in the individual’s family who knows how to treat the overdose or perform life-saving measures, the result can be tragic.
Access to treatment services for those addicted to drugs or alcohol is also limited in rural areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, normal healthcare services are often restricted as well. In addition, although medications such as buprenorphine have been shown to effectively treat addiction, the medicine is scarce in rural America. Although waivers have been issued that alleviate the situation somewhat during the pandemic, more than 10 million rural Americans (more than a fifth of the country’s rural population) live in counties without a single provider licensed to prescribe the addiction treatment medication.
Telehealth is a viable option for those individuals living in rural areas, if they have access to Internet service. The use of telehealth has become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as access to physical healthcare offices is limited. However, there are many areas of the country where even telehealth is not possible.
For example, leaders of a practice in rural Alabama estimate that two-thirds of their patients lack an adequate device or internet connection for a virtual appointment. In addition, reporting by North Carolina Health News shows that a community health center serving rural parts of that state is offering creative solutions—such as parking lot appointments—to take advantage of wireless hot spots.

Opioid Addiction Treatment at Hope by the Sea

At Hope by the Sea, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic can be a challenge if you are seeking treatment for an addiction to drugs or alcohol. We offer you a top clinical staff, a serene setting, and over fifteen years of experience treating addiction to guide you through a successful recovery from your addiction. Please contact Hope By The Sea immediately for assistance. Our team is following every CDC protocol for COVID-19 as our clients’ safety is of the utmost importance.