COVID-19 and Addiction: An Epidemic Within the Pandemic

(6:53)

with Courtney Gallo Hunter of Shatterproof

Posted

Mar 15, 2021

Experts say the stress from social isolation and other COVID-19-related life changes can lead to or worsen substance use for those struggling with addiction.

Courtney Gallo Hunter, Vice President of State Policy with Shatterproof, discusses the challenges COVID-19 presents for people who battle with addiction and substance use, and resources and support available for those impacted.

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: While COVID-19 continues to dominate as the top national health concern, pandemic safety measures have unintended consequences for those struggling with addiction. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Stress from social isolation, financial worries, reduced access to healthcare services, and other COVID-19 related life changes can trigger an increase in or a return to addictive behavior. This is something that Courtney Gallo Hunter is here to talk about. She is the vice president of state policy with Shatterproof. And, Courtney, thanks for being here.

Hunter: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: As we were researching this here at "Newsmakers," we talked about this whole idea of an epidemic within the pandemic that we're all going through. What are you seeing? What's going on in terms of numbers when it comes to addiction?

Hunter: Unfortunately, we're seeing the highest number on record of annual overdoses from May of 2019 to May of 2020, as reported by the CDC, and that is really a function of a couple of things. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already -- the existing addiction crisis, an epidemic that we were facing before COVID-19 and the increased isolation that you were mentioning, job losses. You know, really, this despair that we're combating currently is exacerbating the numbers, and then what we already know, you know, before the pandemic about this disease is that we're not, you know, treating it like a medical condition and that there are so many barriers to accessing care that existed before, you know, the current isolated state in which we're in, where it's hard to access treatment and, you know, really difficult to, you know, find a means to pay for it as well.

Anderson: It's not just that. I mean, people who are dealing with addiction issues are also more susceptible to getting COVID-19. Explain that to our viewers. Connect the dots for people who might not understand that.

Hunter: Sure. Well, what we know is that people who use drugs or are struggling with addiction are -- might have compromised -- compromised immune systems and might really be, you know -- have respiratory issues already, and so makes them, unfortunately, more susceptible to getting COVID-19 and then having severe complications as a result.

Anderson: And it's not just that. There is this insidious issue of stigma surrounding addiction. How does that exacerbate what's an already difficult situation for people, their families, their loved ones?

Hunter: Oh, it's such a great point, Tetiana. And what we really struggle with is, you know, trying to combat this decades-long, you know, theory and sort of societal norm that addiction is a moral failing. We know that addiction is a brain disorder, that it is a chronic medical condition. And so we need to bring addiction treatment, addiction prevention, and recovery services into the medical mainstream and start treating addiction like the disease that it is. You know, stigma is so pervasive in every level of society amongst providers. I don't want those patients in my waiting room to, you know, colleagues don't want to be associated with people who are struggling with addiction. And really what we've seen with families who have, you know, children that are struggling is that they cower in shame and isolation and just total stigma. Whereas, you know, if your child had some other disease, you would be getting casseroles, you know? Your neighbors would be offering carpool, and that doesn't happen with addiction. It's, you know, "He's a bad kid" or, you know, "She's a -- She's got issues," right, "and needs to be sent away," when we know that this is a medical condition.

Anderson: And speaking of this as a medical condition, we also know that there's barriers to achieving proper treatment, and that can come in the form of insurance companies. Will they pay? How long will they pay? Are there treatment locations that are accessible for those who need them? What's Shatterproof doing to address some of those challenges?

Hunter: Yeah, well, we worked with the American Society of Addiction Medicine and OpenBeds to create a level-of-care assessment for people, for themselves or for a loved one, so you can go online to our treatmentatlas.org website and fill out a quick questionnaire around what is the, you know, severity of your symptoms. It takes about five minutes, and there will be a level-of-care recommendation. And I think what's so important about this is to know that treatment doesn't equal inpatient, you know, detox and, you know, residential treatment. There are all sorts of levels of care out there and levels of care that might better fit your needs and also, you know, your life. Maybe it's going to be better for you to, you know, keep your kid and keep your house and, you know, keep your job and do intensive outpatient treatment and have medication and, you know, do a video chat with your therapist. And so we need to be making sure that insurance is providing protections and also really ensuring that they're covering payment for all levels of care for addiction treatment.

Anderson: Courtney, if people want to find out more about what Shatterproof does, where can they go? What's the website?

Hunter: Thank you. They can go to shatterproof.org or also treatmentatlas.org to take our needs assessment or to find help for you or a loved one.

Anderson: Courtney Gallo Hunter with Shatterproof, thank you so much for this.

Hunter: Thank you so much for highlighting this important issue.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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