How Drug Abuse Impacts The Spread Of Coronavirus And Flu

How Drug Abuse Impacts The Spread Of Coronavirus And Flu

How Drug Abuse Impacts The Spread Of Coronavirus And Flu

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

When smoking marijuana, a common practice is sharing with others. Smoking a pipe or a joint could be a deadly multiplier in the coronavirus story. The first experience with marijuana is usually a group encounter. Marijuana is a social event. A pipe is packed with marijuana or a joint is rolled, lit, and then passed to a friend or a stranger. The practice of sharing has been ongoing for decades as seen in the movie Reefer Madness and later promoted extensively by the counterculture movement of the late ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Woodstock is the most classic example of marijuana sharing, tens of thousands smoked marijuana communally. Every rock concert and music festival since has the pungent smell of marijuana in the air. Since the legalization of marijuana, some states have allowed marijuana to be smoked publicly in designated areas. At this year’s spring break in Florida and Mardi Gras in New Orleans marijuana was passed around by thousands of young people and adult party-goers. Perhaps this will help to understand how drug use in a hidden way can multiply the spread of the coronavirus virus and flu.

Baby boomers who have practiced sharing for decades have compromised pulmonary systems and combined with age and other preexisting health conditions make them one of the most susceptible groups to covid19. Vaping marijuana and nicotine products have caused multiple deaths and serious lung damage across the age spectrum before the coronavirus was discovered. Young people have followed the example set by baby boomers in the practice of zeroing while vaping both marijuana and nicotine. The process of zeroing begins with inhaling the largest amount of marijuana or nicotine (from a vaping stick, marijuana joint or pipe) as possible, then holding your breath and keeping it in your lungs for as long as you can until all the blue-black color of smoke or in the case of vaping all the steam disappears when exhaled.  This leaves all the tar, nicotine and vapor on the lining or bottom of your lungs. A sludge of vapor and derivatives builds up on the lungs seriously affecting the ability to breathe. With compromised immune systems from these drugs and products, we will see a level of sickness and death from those affected with coronavirus rise dramatically in this group of users. Add tobacco users who compromise their lungs with every cigarette, and we have a perfect storm for the coronavirus to seriously impact all users of drugs smoked.

Coronavirus and opioids

The high cost of opioids (mostly OxyContin or Oxycodone) already forces users into buying heroin, a much cheaper alternative. Injection of heroin or smoking heroin means more communal sharing both by needle and pipe. As users lose jobs and unemployment rises due to catastrophic cratering of the economy, addicts will seek other ways to maintain their habits. Street violence will increase, police departments stretched thin by the virus will focus on containing the most violent gangs and cartel members. In the direction of government officials, police are now looking the other way when drug sales are spotted due to overcrowding in jails. The practice of releasing prisoners from correctional facilities is at an explosive threshold. Released prisoners who have had significant community exposure to the virus while in jail, will add to the upward curve of coronavirus infections. Guards are already declaring unsafe conditions, and many are not reporting to work. They are either sick or worried about the confined conditions translating into some of the highest rates of infection outside of medical facilities in the country. [Chicago’s Cook County Jail and Rikers Island Jail in New York City are two current examples] Riots broke out in the state of Washington at the Monroe State correctional facility. Without a job or income released inmates will turn to crimes against property, armed robbery of pharmacies, and street drug trafficking. Many police departments point to drug and alcohol abuse to be the cause of 80 percent of all crime before the virus, and now fear there will be an upward spike in those statistics. 

Further complications

Opioid overdose deaths are largely due to pulmonary edema which is the filling of the lungs with fluids, essentially causing drowning. EMS response to opioid overdoses will be significantly reduced as the need for EMS to transport and treat coronavirus patients expands in many already overwhelmed cities. Distribution of Narcan (the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose) will be diminished. The number of known opioid deaths in the US already exceeds 400,000 in the last ten years. In the year 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 67,300 deaths from a combination of licit and illicit drug overdoses. 40,000 of those deaths are from opioid abuse. This year as of today coronavirus deaths is at 39,900 with the CDC projecting around 60,000 total coronavirus deaths in the US. Opioid deaths will continue upwards pressuring an already overtaxed drug treatment system. Treatment facilities hampered by lockdown and shelter in place mandates could result in sending thousands back to the streets. High numbers of addicts will self-release from treatment facilities returning to the streets in search of drugs while fending for themselves without the support of services. Deaths from nonmedically supervised withdrawal could also rise as outpatient treatment at Medically Assisted [MA] programs (the most effective way of treating opioid abuse) will stop or be diminished by travel restrictions and mandates.

Alcohol abuse and treatment

Alcoholism issues are most assuredly projected to spike as isolation resulting from sheltering in place mandates grows, leading to depression and suicide. Treatment facilities may no longer accept new clients and many are in danger of closing. Alcoholics will have reduced options for medically supervised withdrawal potentially causing more deaths. As seen before in history families will suffer as heads of household alcoholics become unemployed and spend limited income on alcohol instead of food and other necessities. Anger issues can amplify as families in close quarters with alcoholics could be subject to abuse. Suicide and depression can rise as alcoholics go through unmedically controlled withdrawal. The bottom line as we see it is that people who use marijuana socially, opioid addicts, and alcoholics will need to break the mandates for social distancing and sheltering. The need and craving for opioids are going to force addicts into their communities looking for drugs. The cost of marijuana will force many recently unemployed workers to share their marijuana with others making mouth to mouth contact common. Alcoholics and the homeless will continue to share bottles at a greater level than before coronavirus also causing even further mouth to mouth transmission of the virus and flu.

What can be done to mitigate these problems?

As Americans, we all stand together. We need to refocus our leadership on this health crisis that is coming almost at the same level of magnitude or greater than the coronavirus pandemic. Once the coronavirus is contained, we will need to put money and resources into this hidden future drug crisis. We have tried and failed with intervention and treatment programs over the last five decades. We project that we must refocus and spend our money on making prevention first and foremost. We feel it is the only way out of this revolving door crisis. We have spent decades of futility on opioid treatment that only works at best 50 or 60 percent of the time. Most addicts go through treatment 6 or seven times with no effect and many ended up dying after this process. Prevention dollars are the way out of this crisis as we see it to stop the problem before it begins. We support programs such as the Botvin Lifestyles Training being adopted nationwide in all schools. We hope you agree and see our training program as one way to start this process. 

One part of the solution

The Alaska Academy for Drug Abuse Prevention stands ready to train young adults [18-25 years old] to become drug abuse, prevention specialists. The academy’s 5-week course will focus on the skill set and development in areas of pharmacology, leadership training, intake and referral, and grant writing. Crisis intervention, suicide prevention, telehealth skills, and knowledge of treatment options in their communities.   These specialists will become an asset to their community agencies and service organizations. They will be trained to support mental health agencies, police and fire departments, and the VA. School districts will be supported by specialists who can train teachers, teach the course themselves, or provide the course material in the Botvin Life Skills training K-12, a scientifically proven effective drug prevention program.  We have an amplified drug crisis brewing and we believe the need to attack is now.

Our Academy has been designed and developed so it can easily be duplicated.






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