What is COVID-19?

As you are aware, the COVID-19 Coronavirus has now been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic as it has swept across much of the globe. But what exactly is COVID-19? Coronaviruses are classified as a type of virus and some of these lead to life threatening disease. A newly identified type of Coronaviruses called COVID-19 has caused a recent outbreak of respiratory illness and is spreading fast. More than 381,000 people are known to be infected and over 16,500 deaths have been recorded with statistics on the rise. But why is this such a critical situation for addicts?

Drug addicts could be in a critical situation

Well, unfortunately these people fall into the “high risk for infection” category along with children, the elderly, and people with other illnesses. This is because this group of people are considered to have low immune systems which makes them more vulnerable to contracting the virus. Since COVID-19  is a respiratory disease, people that smoke cigarettes and use illegal drugs are therefore at a much greater risk. These substances weaken the immune system and cause other health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and respiratory difficulties.

There are many studies that have shown that abusing illicit drugs not only compromises the body’s immune system but also adversely affects the brain functions of the individual. Evidence also shows that addicts are more likely to have limited access to high-quality health care which means these people receive little to no medication. This group of people also tend to not have access to vaccinations that could otherwise put them in a better state of health.

Homelessness and unstable housing

Another factor to consider with people suffering from addiction or SUDs is that they are more likely to experience unstable housing conditions and homelessness. The latest estimates reveal that more than 116,000 people in Australia were considered homeless per the definition of the ABS. This figure was gathered on Census night. The interpretation of this statistic is that Australia has 50 homeless individuals for every 10,000 people. Therefore, people who fall into this category may be missing out on vital advice on how to handle the coronavirus threat, ultimately placing their lives at risk. If our hospitals and clinics reach capacity, then people suffering from homelessness and addiction may face additional barriers to treatment for COVID-19 as they are already stigmatized and underserved as it is.

The effect of COVID-19 lockdown

When it comes to preventative measures against COVID-19, the government has recently imposed lockdown measures and the shutdown of many business and venues. This has posed a unique problem for people suffering from SUDs who are trying to maintain long-term recovery and stay clean. Unfortunately, to comply with the social distancing rule and isolation, many Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been suspended or moved online making it especially challenging for these people to receive their regular social support needed to prevent relapse. This is an incredibly trying time for people with SUDs as they appear to be getting the short end of the stick due to the societal shifts that have been induced by COVID-19. However, if we all stay positive and do our part by practicing social distancing, personal hygiene and adhere to lockdown and quarantine restrictions then we have a better chance of mitigating the spread of the virus and making it through these unprecedented times. It’s important to have proper guidance for better mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you or someone you know is particularly feeling alone and isolated, there are organisations one can reach out to for information and advice. We have listed some below:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://headspace.org.au/young-people/how-to-cope-with-stress-related-to-covid-19/

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/more-homelessness-and-public-housing-support-in-covid-19-fight/

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