Record Overdose Deaths Exposes Faults in Mental Health System During COVID-19 Lockdown Procedures
Erik Hamilton Social Issue: Record Overdose Deaths Exposes
Faults in Mental Health System During COVID-19
The global COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge associated with the opioid overdose crisis in North America. OUD, or opioid use disorder, services were confronted with systematically adapting the level of care to many in-person clinics. Preliminary reports raise the fear that the coronavirus restrictions fueled the highest ever recorded overdose deaths in a single year, placing the quality of these community based mental health services into the limelight.
Researchers in British Columbia explained many of the new adjustments placed the level of cared into a home setting to avoid possible virus transmission amongst group and outpatient care clinics. Many of these adjustments included a withdrawal management program, which provides consumers with pharmaceutical alternatives to the illegal drug supply. This notion is to avoid the heightened overdose risk associated with doing drugs alone or potentially spreading COVID-19 in a group setting. Other modifications to the OUD care continuum were modified supervised injection spaces to adhere to PPE guidelines, increased implementation of telehealth services, writing longer prescriptions, and promoting take home doses of methadone and suboxone treatments. All these strategies aim to suppress the spread of COVID-19[Mac20].
The US and Canadian governments rapidly revised policies to eliminate the structural barriers to care through the mobilization of telemedicine and telehealth. Public health departments, which act in such ways as a safety net for the provision of harm reduction interventions (naloxone distribution, needle-exchange programs, etc.) are under enormous strain and may offer reduced quality of support while they focus on resource and response to COVID-19. Social isolation, compounded by increased anxiety, depression, and economic uncertainty during the pandemic. The restrictions for public safety may have increased the risk of relapse and increase the likelihood that the individual will be alone, which are factors related to increased risk of fatal overdoses (Slavova, 2020). To address concern of those suffering with OUD placed in a rapidly changing environment; monitoring of early warning systems could provide critical data in identifying changes of overdose patterns that affect our communities.
Responses to the pandemic have impacted many lives. The implementation and mandates of social distancing to slow the transmission of the virus ultimately created new challenges in treatment for those with opioid use disorder. Individuals who use drugs faced worsening mental health, increased feelings of boredom, stress, and thoughts of suicide because of COVID-19. The social isolation and psychological toll from these factors can be associated with the increasing rate of overdose deaths. Furthermore, other attributing reasons could be limited access to clinician’s offices, financial instability, treatment care closures, changes to illegal drug supply networks, and not having the “normal” support services they are accustomed to (Shreffler, 2021). It appears that it is easier to obtain illegal drugs than treatment during the current times. The most widely used critical harm reduction is Naloxone or Narcan, which can be administered by first responders as well as bystanders who witness the overdose.
MacKinnon, L., Eugenia Socias, M., Bardwell, G. (2020). COVID-19 and overdose prevention: Challenges and opportunities for clinical practice in housing settings, 119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108153
Slavova, S., Rock, P., Bush, M. Quesinberry, D. Walsh, S. (2020). Signal of increased opioid overdose during COVID-19 from emergency medical services data, 214, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108176
Shreffler, J., Megan, S., Murfree, J., Huecker, M (2021). A Global Pandemic and Substance Use Disorder: Healthcare Professionals’ Viewpoints on the Merging of Two Crises, 56(10), https://doi-org.wv-o-ursus-proxy02.ursus.maine.edu/10.1080/10826084.2021.1936052