Nickolaus Hayes

Restrictions brought on by the pandemic have reduced the demand for certain drugs. In a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report, restrictions resulting from lockdown hindered the production of opiates and impeded cocaine production.

Despite this, seizures of heroin and fentanyl have remained steady along with an increase in seizures of crystal meth, per U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Unfortunately, all of this has coincided with a spike in overdose deaths within the United States. The problems of stress, loneliness and economic hardships all exacerbate drug abuse. The pandemic has not stopped Americans from purchasing the substances they need to cope, whether legal or illegal. However, many of the predictions indicate this will lead to more Americans struggling with addiction and mental health issues. 

The widespread shutdowns and social distancing measures have made it difficult for those seeking treatment for substance use to secure the resources they need. The country has already experienced a surge in alcohol sales and relapses along with fatal and nonfatal drug-related overdoses. Alcohol and marijuana use have increased significantly, along with the use of opioids and benzodiazepines. 

People who use drugs will not stop spending money on drugs. In 2016, Americans who used drugs spent $150 billion on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. Between 2010 and 2016, heroin consumption increased by 10%. The introduction of fentanyl into heroin markets increased the risk of using heroin.

Methamphetamine use seems to be unpredictable because national data sets do not do an excellent job of capturing its use. However, there is a steady increase of methamphetamine seized at the U.S.-Mexico border, indicating the problem has never subsided, just hidden behind all the other news headlines. 

The opioid epidemic has been an epidemic amid a pandemic just as the opioid crisis was beginning to coalesce as more people were getting treatment, and numbers were on the decline. Per an Overdose Detection, Mapping Application Program, there was an increase of 11.39% for fatal overdoses and an increase of 18.64% of nonfatal overdoses since the first cases of COVID-19. 

These problems will continue, and treatment providers across the country should be prepared. Using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, guilt, remorse and any type of physical or psychological trauma is a solution too commonly used. Stress is a reaction that the body must make to compensate for changes and adjustments in life — there have been significant adjustments being made. 

Because stress is normal, it can be brought on even by positive changes, although it seems that everything has been negative lately — within the primary news cycles mostly. People who are unable to deal with their stress start using drugs to cope. Unfortunately, it is a key risk factor in addiction. Changes in life mixed with the inability to deal with the changes are a risk factor for using drugs or alcohol as an outlet. 

Unfortunately, these stressful events have been prolonged and compounded one on top of the other, which creates depressive situations, leading to individuals searching out a way to cope.

The best thing any of us can do right now is to look for the good that is occurring within the world. Moreover, reach in and help those who are struggling. Many of the treatment resources may not be there when the pandemic subsides due to heavy-handed restrictions. However, the ones that are still operating will see an increase in need. 

Stress and addiction are a common problem, and high stress can be a predictor of the use of opiates. People exposed to stress face the likelihood of abusing alcohol and drugs and are more likely to experience a relapse.

Stress is a biological phenomenon, but chronic stress can impair cognitive functioning. If you find someone you know is showing signs of using drugs, especially in isolation, do not wait to get them help. 

There is still a wide range of treatment programs operating within the country. Many of the treatment centers have had to adapt to new protocols, some have had to reduce services, but many services are still there. Unfortunately, this is a time when the vulnerable are made more vulnerable and need a helping hand from the people around them. 

Nickolaus Hayes, of Calgary Alberta, is a health care professional in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance abuse. He can be emailed at nickolaushayes@gmail.com

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