Within just a few weeks, our lives have been turned upside down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Our social lives exist only through screens. Basic activities such as buying groceries require extra precautions. Yet, most of us are still living in decent conditions; our biggest problem being boredom. I was pleasantly surprised as I witnessed my friends going back to all the joys that they didn’t have time for before: making art, meditating, cooking, reading and practicing self-care. Similarly, I have been spending my time reading up on the latest literature on addiction, which is my research focus. While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder how COVID-19 has impacted substance abusers. I saw first-hand how the pandemic had increased drinking habits in those around me and could only imagine how those struggling with addiction were managing to stay clean or even survive amidst the current lack of resources.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer support groups for substance abusers that are usually held in person. During this crisis, many groups have moved to online formats, holding these meetings through platforms like Zoom. Similarly, psychologists and psychiatrists have also been forced to move their services online. This raises an issue, as many substance abusers rely on these meetings, yet may not have access to the internet or even a device with a webcam. City officials should explore ways to keep members of our community connected to online meetings. For example, by offering walk-in centers and providing internet connection at local hotels that are currently empty. Social contact and human interaction are essential for recovery, and I worry about those who are not receiving the help they need during this crisis.
In fact, places like the Kensington area of Philadelphia are extremely vulnerable to the challenges that COVID-19 presents. Kensington is known as a drug hot spot, where it is common to see people using and buying drugs in broad daylight. Many drug users in this area are homeless and are forced to rely on human contact, the opposite of social distancing, to acquire drugs or to panhandle for food. Community and government responses have failed to serve those who do not have identifiable tax information or even bank accounts. These people are forced to interact with others in the community in order to obtain resources, potentially facilitating the spread of the coronavirus.
Luckily, crisis responders from Operation Save Our City and the Philly Unknown Project spent April 6 handing out safety kits to the homeless residents of Kensington, providing them with personal protective equipment and Narcan. Those members of our community are often overlooked, yet the virus doesn’t discriminate. Although the community is lucky to have such organizations, city officials should take more action in assisting our most vulnerable populations.
Many of these same people also rely on medication-assisted treatment programs, which are not adapting well to the current situation. Some medications, such as methadone, need to be administered daily, while others like buprenorphine only three times a week. I call on these treatment centers to accommodate the guidelines set forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration in order to minimize harm and provide those who are quarantined with their much-needed medication through delivery by a loved one or friend.
A number of hotels in Philadelphia are empty, while some are being utilized to house patients needing to be quarantined who have no other place to stay. Instead of suppressing and further isolating the community in Kensington, I suggest that city officials show initiative in providing shelter for these people during this crisis, providing them with resources for recovery, and through this simultaneously mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
I agree that it is impossible to help those who do not want to be helped. However, it is important to give people a chance to accept help in the first place. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, make sure to check in on them. Make sure they are receiving their medication if they take any. Connect them to online resources. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please visit the following webpage of the National Institute on Drug Abuse where you can find recovery resources amidst the COVID-19 pandemic at https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/covid-19-resources.