Substance use up amid pandemic: survey

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Some people with substance use disorders have increased their usage during the pandemic, according to a survey released Tuesday.

A survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by the Addiction Policy Forum found that 20 percent said they or a family member have increased substance use since COVID-19 began.

Four percent reported overdoses, and 1 percent of those were fatal, according to the survey.

“We are concerned that the progress we have made over the last several years to address overdoses and the opioid epidemic, that we might have lost ground during the pandemic shutdown,” said Jessica Hulsey, co-author of the report and president of the Addiction Policy Forum, an advocacy group for people with substance use disorders.

“We need to make sure that we are doubling down efforts to make sure that the colliding epidemics of coronavirus and the opioid epidemic doesn’t mean more loss of life in communities that are hit hard by both.”

Drug overdose deaths declined in 2018 for the first time in nearly two decades, driven by drops in deaths from prescription opioids.

Still, nearly 68,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2018, the most recent data available. Overdose deaths from synthetic narcotics, mainly fentanyl, and cocaine and meth continue to increase. Overall, 20 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be addicted to substances.

Experts have worried that the stress of the pandemic and social distancing requirements could increase that number and put people with substance use disorders at risk for relapses.

Respondents to the survey were most concerned about the lack of access to in-person support groups and 12 step meetings due to social distancing requirements.

In the earlier days of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health agencies had urged states and localities to limit in-person gatherings and discretionary travel as much as possible.

While some meetings have taken place virtually, it might not work for everyone, Hulsey said.

In all, 14 percent said they have been unable to access needed services during the pandemic. The web-based survey was conducted between April 27 and May 8 and is not representative of the broader population. The survey is a “rapid assessment” of the impact of COVID-19 on people with substance use disorders and is intended to inform additional research, the report states.

“In the future, I do think we need to readdress what are essential services and what isn’t,” Hulsey said.

“Addiction is a chronic health condition and some of the long-term support that individuals need to stay healthy and well need to be met even during a crisis like Covid-19.”

A recent analysis from the Well Being Trust estimated that 75,000 more people will die from drug or alcohol misuse and suicide if the U.S. Does not significantly invest in solutions to help “heal the nation’s isolation, pain and suffering” caused by COVID-19.

The Addiction Policy Forum and 47 other groups are asking Congressional leaders to appropriate millions of dollars in funding to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on people with substance use disorders.

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