17 Jun / Addiction treatment services remain essential during the COVID-19 pandemic
In the light of today’s health pandemic COVID-19 crisis, Dianova pledges that addiction treatment services are essential services to be on par with other healthcare services
Statement by Dianova International – The unexpected irruption of COVID-19 all across the world has been an eye-opener on how crucial it is to have well-prepared addiction treatment services. Furthermore, strong health systems tackle more effectively the impact of COVID-19 on individuals with substance abuse disorders. Health is a common responsibility which is too important for any of us to turn a blind eye. And as other health, and in particular mental health services, Addiction treatment services – either drug rehab or alcohol rehabilitation – are essential services.
Many high-income countries’ health systems have been on the verge of collapse, as hospitals have been struggling with surging infections. However, now most European countries are seeing a “substantial decrease” in cases. And the rest of the world is getting ready to face the peak of infections. On the positive side, some governments are starting to draw their own conclusions. For instance, from the need to strengthen primary care and telemedicine to the necessity of ending overdependence on offshore supply chains.
Impact of COVID-19 on individuals with drug or alcohol use disorders
The pandemic has revealed numerous dysfunctions in our health and care systems. Sadly, these dysfunctions have primarily been affecting those most vulnerable. Among them, Covid-19-related consequences seem to take a particularly heavy toll on people in the throes of substance use disorder and addiction, as well as on those in recovery.
In accordance with the World Drug Report 2019, some 35 million people, are affected by drug use disorders and require treatment and harm reduction services. The latest available data also indicates a staggering death toll: 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017.
The challenges engendered by stay-at-home orders are likely to have had negative effects on people with substance use disorders or in recovery. For example, including increased drug or alcohol consumption, risks of overdose, and relapse. Moreover, a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction emphasizes that people who use drugs face additional risks of infection by Covid-19 as compared to the general population. Either because of lifestyle factors and / or pre-existing health problems. Examples of these include:
> the high prevalence of chronic pulmonary diseases among clients in treatment.
> HIV, viral hepatitis infections and liver cancers – leading to weakened immune systems – among people who inject drugs.
People with addiction issues had to face are still facing specific needs during COVID-19 pandemic
In addition, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health pointed out that, in the current Covid-19 context, people who use drugs had to face – or are still facing – specific needs. Namely due to criminalization, stigma, discrimination, social marginalization and higher economic and social vulnerabilities. Together with a lack of access to adequate housing and healthcare. He then concluded by stressing:
> the need to recognize vulnerable groups of people who use drugs as a high-risk population in order to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
Lastly, about one third of all people who use drugs are women. However, the latter are at higher risk of HIV and other infections. And on the other hand more at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence than women in the broader population. This phenomenon is also likely to be exacerbated in these times of crisis.
Other mental health problems are also widespread. It is estimated that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health disorders like anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. Thus, placing such disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. This situation seems to have been worsened by the pandemic. On one hand. the lockdown measures and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health. And on the other hand, created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.
Addiction treatment services remain essential during the COVID-19 pandemic
Substance use disorders like drug or alcohol dependency are life-threatening conditions. Hence we need more than ever addiction prevention, addiction treatment, harm reduction and reintegration services. In the midst of a crisis of this proportion, the Dianova network’s addiction counselors have, as most other addiction professionals, carried on with their mission and daily tasks dutifully, multiplying preventive protection actions.
Dianova’s therapeutic communities, like Quinta das Lapas in Portugal, have taken very strict precautions to keep their inpatients and staff safe. Either by suspending new admissions or by limiting them to thoroughly screened or quarantined inpatients. Everywhere, Covid-19 prevention procedures were put into play. Moreover, all staff members remaining vigilant and duly following essential health and safety protocols and physical distancing measures.
Yet, in many countries, authorities have been able to give addiction services only very little support. In some cases, health systems initially thought of as solid were unable to provide the basics. For example, for these professionals with basic personal protection equipment or financial support to buy them. Be that as it may, our addiction professionals have been carrying out their duties with intellect and integrity. Despite these difficult and often dangerous circumstances, providing vulnerable people with appropriate counselling and support. They kept on working.
International campaign #AddictionServicesAreEssential health services
In order to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, on June 26, Dianova would like to pay warm tribute to the hard work, dedication, and innovative attitudes of all addiction professionals in these times of doubt and emergency.
This anniversary provides a perfect occasion for us to step up and demand that addiction treatment services – drug rehab or alcohol rehabilitation – be on par with other healthcare services. With similar levels of attention and support. Should another crisis of this nature arise, addiction services shouldn’t be forgotten by the public health system any longer. Substance use and other addictive disorders are a matter of public health. As such, addiction services are undoubtedly essential. Because, as our campaign’s motto states it:
When everything is on pause, some of us must go on.
The Dianova network operates addiction prevention, drugs and alcohol addiction treatment, recovery and rehabilitation facilities and services in various countries of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. Countries with varying situations with regard to the pandemic. All of our members have nevertheless reported taking very strict precautions to keep their residents and staff safe. While at the same time providing the best care for people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. Everywhere, our staff are taking their jobs very personally and seriously, and every passing day they go much beyond what is asked of them.
Just one among many lessons. This pandemic is teaching us the pressing need to reaffirm and uphold the universal right to health. Leaving No one Behind, as per the Agenda 2030, is today an even more relevant imperative towards building a equity. One world in which all people have an equal opportunity to attain the highest possible standard of health and well-being. Not only people living with substance use disorders have the right to be fully taken care of. Even and most of all, in times of emergency, but so do all the professionals investing their lives in serving the most vulnerable.
Substance use disorders are a public health issue
Addiction treatment services are essential health services