COVID-19 has undoubtedly ravaged economies, altered lifestyles, and decimated livelihoods. At the same time, another pandemic has emerged, and its effects are also devastating. Income reduction and job losses have caused anxiety among many people, making some seek consolation in alcohol and drugs. Consequently, psychologists and doctors worldwide have sounded an alarm over the increasing rates of substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many countries implemented lockdowns in their efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus. Consequently, many people suffered traumatic isolation and unemployment. Opioid abuse rates were backing off a bit though substance abuse generally remained high. The COVID-19 pandemic rendered a significant percentage of the workforce idle during the lockdowns. According to anecdotal evidence and government experts’ reports, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to child and spousal abuse, more suicides, and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.
What’s more, an increasing number of people are searching for phrases like “methadone clinic near me” online in their efforts to find help with addiction within their localities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey report in mid-August showing how serious the emotional and psychological effects of the COVID-19 are among Americans.
Conducted in late June, this survey revealed an increase in symptoms for anxiety disorder by up to three times compared to those of a study from 2019’s second quarter, from 8.1% to 25.5%. The same survey also showed up to 4 times increase in depressive disorder from 6.5% to 24.3%. Additionally, CDC reported a 13.3% increase in substance abuse, with some starting to abuse alcohol and drugs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report noted over two times the number of respondents with serious suicide considerations in 30 days than the adults in 2018 in the U.S. That’s an increase from 4.3% to 10.7% over the last 12 months.
Addressing the Problem
CDC researchers recommend channeling more resources to addiction treatment facilities to address the potential harm from the increasing substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. And this includes the provision of harm reduction solutions, treatment options, and social support. All these are essential and, therefore, should be accessible to every citizen. For instance, when somebody searches for the phrase “methadone clinics near me” online, they should have an easy time finding a facility that can help them overcome their opioid addiction.
What’s more, periodic suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and mental health assessment should provide an evaluation of psychological distress prevalence over time. In its history, America has experienced a substance abuse issue. However, evidence indicates that COVID-19 has worsened the problem. Perhaps, the recent increase in alcohol sales by 27% from March 7 proves this worsening problem.
According to Millennium Health, the U.S has experienced an increase of 10% for cocaine, 12.5% for heroin, 20% for methamphetamine, and 32% for non-prescribed fentanyl. The report by national laboratory for drug testing also increased an 18% increase in possible drug overdoses.
It’s no secret that public health experts report increasing deaths from drug overdose all over the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Over 30 states have experienced an increase in overdose deaths involving opioids, primarily illicit fentanyl.
The COVID-19 pandemic effects, substance use disorders, and mental health problems combined hint at the need for additional resources to address the public health effects, including the increased drug overdose risk.
Warning to the Employers
As more people continue searching for phrases like “methadone or subutex clinic near me” online in their effort to get assistance, experts have warned some employers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued documents for addressing accommodation issues for individuals with substance abuse problems under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
EEOC issued two technical documents, describing them as informal guidance. These documents’ purpose was to clarify the existing legal requirements to the public. However, EEOC admitted that these documents don’t have a legal effect or force. The commission further noted that they don’t bind the American people.
But Catherine Cano and Kathryn Russo from the Jackson Lewis warned that employers should avoid making employment decisions under the influence of the social stigma surrounding substance abuse. The history of this commission indicates that it has pursued cases involving employers that make adverse hiring decisions under the influence of unsupported conclusions regarding an employee’s or applicant’s ability to work after testing positing for drug use. Thus, some employers have denied recovering addicts job opportunities after testing positive even for lawful opioid use.
The commission further notes that ADA’s non-discrimination provisions protect employees that have used prescribed opioids lawfully. It also covers any worker that is recovering from opioid use and currently not using illicit opioids.
What’s more, employees could also be eligible for accommodations if necessary because of lawful medication use or underlying health condition that necessitate opioid use. Nevertheless, ADA does not protect any employee that is currently using illegal opioids.
ADA protections can also apply to employees with addiction to legal opioid use. That’s because opioid addiction is a diagnosable health condition with ADA’s coverage for disability. Thus, employers may consider accommodation for such employees. And this could include allowing these workers time off work to attend support groups and therapy sessions to prevent relapse.
Employers should permit any employee that seeks leave to undergo treatment or recover from drug addiction to use accrued and sick leave like the other employees when they request medical treatment off.
The guidance further notes that employers should consider the employees taking opioid medication according to the Medical Assisted Treatment program as legal users. Consequently, ADA states that employers can’t terminate or deny such workers a job for being in the MAT program as long as they can perform their duties effectively and safely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected lives in many ways, with some people turning to substance abuse to deal with its psychological effects. Unfortunately, this has led to substance dependence, with more individuals searching for treatment to address their addiction. The increasing numbers of people seeking treatment can easily overwhelm a methadone clinic or any other facility. Consequently, treatment facilities need more resources. Additionally, employers should be fair and accommodate employees in recovery or seeking treatment for their addictions.