We’ve written about the collision of the COVID-19 and opioid epidemics. Now, there is a new intersection between the two.
Long-Haulers Receiving Prescriptions at Higher Rates
More than three million people who have had COVID-19 are considered “long-haulers,” meaning their symptoms linger for weeks or months after first becoming infected. In order to treat these symptoms, doctors are prescribing potentially addictive medications at higher rates.
A new study found that for every 1,000 people with COVID-19 treated at a VA facility, doctors wrote nine more opioid prescriptions and 22 more benzo prescriptions than they otherwise would. This may seem like a small number, but Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly—the study’s lead author—is concerned that this could lead to spikes in addiction.
Opioid and Benzo Use
While the opioid crisis is ongoing in the United States, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed in 2019 was its lowest in 14 years. Even then, though, doctors gave out more than 153 million opioid prescriptions. Then came 2020, bringing with it a new crisis and new symptoms to treat.
Benzo use is also high. More than one in eight American adults uses opioids; 17% of people who take benzos misuse them. The use of benzos and opioids together significantly increases the risk of overdose, because both drugs slow breathing.
Some COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms are fatigue, “brain fog,” depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Benzos are typically used to treat anxiety and other related symptoms, and opioids are used for chronic pain.
Dr. Greg Martin, president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, said, “We need to find the proper non-narcotic treatment for it, just like we do with other forms of chronic pain.” The CDC recommends a number of other interventions, such as physical therapy, over-the-counter painkillers, biofeedback therapy, antidepressants, and more.
It’s important for anyone prescribing meds to COVID long-haulers to be aware of their potential for addiction. As more people get vaccines and we build towards reopening society, we don’t want to retrigger another crisis.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. We offer medication-assisted treatment (Suboxone and Vivitrol) to help gradually free you from substances. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.