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how the pandemic has worsened opioid addiction

Destiny Rozek, 22, of Holbrook, New York on Long Island has struggled with opioid addiction for the past four years, a struggle she said has worsened during America’s coronavirus pandemic.



a man wearing a hat: Photograph: Morgan Lee/AP


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Morgan Lee/AP

Rozek explained that several detox facilities have closed and coronavirus safety protocols have limited the assistance several other facilities once provided. She went to a detox facility several weeks ago, but was discharged after a couple of nights because they needed space in the ward.

“There was no therapy or anything to help me. They didn’t even help me find an outside place to go to after and I was still sick when they let me out but they needed space because it was busy,” Rozek said.

Related: Bleak new record as 71,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year

Many addiction treatment centers around the US have shut down or turned away patients because of the pandemic, as they struggle with financial losses and adhering to safety protocols. Rozek is currently in an outpatient program, but complained she was only given medicine to try to detox at home and in person support groups aren’t currently available.

“I’m genuinely trying but it feels like I’m stuck, and so do a lot of the other addicts I know,” Rozek added.

Mass layoffs, furloughs, isolation, and cuts to resources for recovering addicts have been cited as contributing factors to reported rises in opioid use and overdoses during the pandemic.

Based on data from the Overdose detection mapping application program, opioid overdoses increased in March 2020 by 18% compared to the same month in 2019, 29% in April 2020, and 42% in May 2020. According to the American Medical Association, over 40 states have reported increases in opioid related deaths during the pandemic, even as the US experienced a record of nearly 71,000 opioid related deaths in 2019.

“Drug users are doubly vulnerable right now. They are vulnerable in terms of increased risk of relapse, increased risk of misuse during the pandemic, but they’re also at increased risk for being infected by Covid and having adverse reactions to Covid,” said Dr Magdalene Cerda, of NYU Langone Health.

Cerda said states should be taking advantage of the loosening of regulations on opioid disorder medications methadone and buprenorphine to increase access to medication, increased funding for harm reduction services and loosening of restrictions by states for naloxone, an overdose reversal medication.



a sign above a store: Coronavirus warning signs hang on the doors of a detox facility in Gallup, New Mexico. Photograph: Morgan Lee/AP


© Provided by The Guardian
Coronavirus warning signs hang on the doors of a detox facility in Gallup, New Mexico. Photograph: Morgan Lee/AP

She also said social and economic benefits, such as sustained unemployment benefits, workplaces covering mental health and substance abuse care, are critical to preventing the worsening of the opioid crisis during the pandemic.

Dr Caleb Banta-Green, of the University of Washington, said some programs have struggled to adapt to loosening regulations on opioid use disorder medications in terms of ensuring easier access, which has been a constant struggle for opioid use disorder