How the pandemic may be making it easier for some people to get help with drug addiction

This could be a record-breaking year for fatal drug overdoses in Virginia, and overdoses are spiking nationwide, but one doctor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is encouraged by the way the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted people to embrace new health care technology.

Paul Christo, an associate professor in the division of pain medicine at the school, thinks the way patients and doctors have embraced new tech could make a big difference in the future of addiction treatment.

“There’s a great deal of hope because we have tele-mental health services available,” Christo said. “What is especially helpful is that you can connect with others, with health care professionals, other supportive people, who can pull you out of what you’re in, of the disease of addiction.”

Also, evaluations normally done in person for prescription medications that can help patients build and maintain sobriety can now be done by telehealth or by phone.

“We’ve seen greater access to the medication-assisted treatments than ever before,” Christo said.

Pandemic-related uncertainty, and stress over life changes, can lead to new substance use, or cause people in recovery to relapse.

“The number of overdose deaths in 2020 could be double the number of deaths that we saw in 2019,” Christo said. “The number of fatalities from opioid-related overdoses could be nearly 30% higher than reported due to missing information or incomplete death records.”

To get help, people who are struggling with addiction first, of course, have to admit something’s wrong.

“You have to recognize that you have a problem, and that’s sometimes very difficult to do,” Christo said. But, people who care can help and take potentially lifesaving action.

“If you’ve got friends and loved ones telling you that you have an abuse problem related to opioids, then the first step is make sure you get naloxone — Narcan is the other word for that,” Christo said. “Have it available, have your friends and family have it available, because they can administer it in the event that you overdose on an opioid.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has resources for those seeking help, or those in need of assistance can call 800-662-HELP (4357).

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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