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  • Addiction & recovery

A Guide for Safer Substance Use During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Nzinga Harrison

July 10, 2020


As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across the world, certain groups are considered especially at risk, including older adults, people with serious underlying medical conditions, or those with weakened immune systems. Along with these groups, people with substance use disorders are also vulnerable to the virus.

Due to social distancing measures, people with addiction may be unable to find a supply or safe way to use. While decreased substance use or the idea of “quitting cold turkey” may seem like a positive consequence of coronavirus, in reality, it poses significant health risks.

If a person with addiction suddenly stops their substance use, it could cause severely uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, hallucinations, and seizures. For some people, these symptoms may be so intolerable that it could lead them to use substances in higher amounts or less safe ways and cause an overdose.

Some people with addiction may also have other physical health problems, like weakened immune systems or respiratory issues from drug use. If a person becomes infected COVID-19, it could worsen their existing health issues, especially breathing problems.

In addition to following the general public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are certain precautions that people with addiction can take to avoid COVID-19 and use substances safely. Some of these tips are easier to follow than others but every action helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Hygiene and Health Tips

  • Wash your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, instead of your hands.

  • Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.

  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces in your home and any drug packages you receive with bleach or antimicrobial or alcohol-based wipes.

  • Stock up on any necessary prescription medications that you may need over the next several weeks.

  • Practice social distancing as much as possible. Minimize your contact with other people to stop the spread of the virus.

  • If you are feeling sick, let other people close to you know that you are experiencing symptoms. Isolate yourself as much as possible to avoid spreading it.

Safer Drug Use Tips

  • Don’t share drinks, syringes, or mouthpieces like vapes, cigarettes, pipes, bongs, or joints with other people. If you have to share, follow these steps to reduce your risk of getting sick:

    • Drinks: Wipe the drink with an alcohol-based sanitizing wipe.

    • Syringes: Dilute bleach by combining one part bleach with ten parts of water. Use the diluted bleach mixture to clean the syringe by rinsing, loading, and expelling the mixture from it. After using bleach, rinse twice with water. If you don’t have bleach, rinse with water three times.

Mouthpieces: Wipe the entire mouthpiece with an alcohol-based sanitizing wipe.

  • When using, prepare your drugs yourself with clean hands and on a sanitized surface. If you are unable to prepare them yourself, stay with the person doing the preparation and make sure they wash their hands and clean surfaces.

  • To avoid any potential overdose, don’t use drugs alone but be sure to keep six feet of distance between you and other people. If you are alone, call someone while you are using them so they can contact emergency services if you become unresponsive.

  • If possible, plan and prepare yourself for any potential withdrawal or overdose. During this time, emergency services may be limited or slow to respond to 911 calls. You may also lose access to your substance supply. If you are able, stock up on your substance supply and other items like naloxone, clean syringes, and fentanyl testing strips.

  • Remember, there is no bad time to engage in addiction treatment. Even in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, treatment centers, like Eleanor Health, are still available and ready to help.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington.

Eleanor Health

Recovery for life.

Our mission at Eleanor Health is to help people affected by addiction live amazing lives. We deliver whole-person, comprehensive care and are passionate about transforming the quality, delivery, and accessibility of addiction & mental health treatment. Our actions are rooted in respect for each member's values, culture, and life experiences, and our commitment to their wellbeing is unwavering and without judgement.

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