We all realize that these are “unique” times (to say the least). The pandemic has certainly brought to light some challenges for everyone whether it is personal, professional or a combination of both. While some may say it has been a great opportunity to stay home and spend more time with family, others have realized a newfound frustration and stress level that they could never have anticipated.
These significant, unplanned changes have deeply changed the country’s course in history, as well as most people’s daily way of life. Over the last several months, everyone has found different ways to cope with these changes. Unfortunately, one unhealthy coping mechanism on the rise is drug use. Since the shutdown in March and through June, drug overdoses have spiked 18% ( Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program ). More concerning are the drugs that have shown increased use during the shutdown. Drug tests run in the months of March through May, by Millennium Health have shown a 32% increase in nonprescribed fentanyl, 20% in methamphetamine and 10% for cocaine (AAMC).
In the case of this pandemic, we have seen a rise in stress, uncertainty, and isolation. These triggers during stressful times provide individuals the rationale to “self-medicate”. Dr. Marans, child and adult psychoanalyst and chief of the Trauma Section at the Child Study Center, says, “One common problem we’re hearing about has been the loss of the normal routines of daily life … Social connectedness is especially important because it can serve as a major protective factor when people are feeling most vulnerable” (Yale Medicine). These triggers can lead to someone to try “feel better” in the moment, or possibly even relapse if they had abused substances in the past. Both circumstances present bigger challenges due to the potency of drugs, especially with the use of fentanyl and methamphetamine, and how a novice or re-lapsing user identifies the “safe dosage” which easily can lead to overdose. Additionally, people are not getting the help they need due to this isolation. Whether it’s professionally (counselors and medical personnel) or personal support systems (friends and family), these “at-risk” individuals don’t have an easy outlet to talk or even help if an overdoes does occur. Unfortunately, the actions taken now may have long term consequences after this pandemic is over.
The good news, there are resources available to support mental health and drug dependency. Remote and/or socially-distanced therapy sessions, pharmacies managing opioid distribution, and tutorials on healthy coping mechanisms to name a few are easily available online. Which healthy coping mechanism is effective varies between individuals and we need to remember that everyone copes in their own way. Some healthy coping strategies include: exercise, playing video games, petting animals or meditation. Choose the way that works for you and others around you. Lastly, it’s crucial that these individuals check in with friends and loved ones whether it is video chatting, texting, or a truly socially-distanced gathering. This social interaction goes a long way on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, that doesn’t include “self-medication.”
Written by: Liz Garcia-Health Educator, Candor Health Education