Data suggests substance use is on the rise with few seeking treatment.
In a report released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes, data shows “in 2018, around 269 million people used drugs worldwide.” That constitutes a 30 percent increase compared to previous reports dating back to 2009. Greater than 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders, and the pandemic has only made this worse, with many states reporting significant increases in opioid-related deaths.
Within the United States, the unemployment rate was “13.3 percent in May, which was a decline of 1.4 percent from April,” according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Individuals struggling with addiction who haven’t had luck getting their prescriptions are turning to the most readily available substances, including alcohol, benzodiazepines, or synthetic drugs. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “one-third of Americans 12 and older perceived considerable risk of harm from weekly marijuana use” while “two-out-of-three people recognized high risk from daily binge drinking.”
The report noted, “during fiscal 2018, the combined federal drug control budget was $27.6 billion, which was an increase from $23.8 billion in 2013. Approximately 39 percent of the budget was spent on treatment, and 33 percent was spent on domestic law enforcement, while only 5 percent was spent on prevention.” The findings also list cannabis as the most widely used substance worldwide, with an “estimated 192 million people” currently using. This is especially concerning during COVID-19 because vaping and cannabis impact lung function, which various reports indicate the virus itself tends to target.
“Opioids continue to remain the most harmful drugs, and the total number of opioid-related deaths increased by 92 percent, while men saw a 63 percent increase in deaths globally,” the office stated, adding, “between 2000 and 2018, drug use increased rapidly within developing countries.” This is also concerning, because opioids slow breathing and their use by individuals with COVID-19 could cause a harmful decrease in oxygen in the blood and a fatal overdose.
Other drugs are also problematic, according to published reports. A history of methamphetamine use causes pulmonary damage and pulmonary hypertension over time. Coupled with COVID-19, lung capacity may be too low to support sufficient breathing. And researchers found people with SUD tend to have “decreased access to health care, housing insecurity, and greater likelihood for incarceration,” as reported. They contend, “Homelessness or incarceration can expose people to environments where they are in close contact with others who might also be at higher risk for infections.”
In 2018, “approximately 20.3 million people 12 and older had a substance use disorder related to alcohol or illicit drugs,” according to the World Drug Report, which lists poverty, limited education, and social marginalization as significant risks for substance misuse. While the impact of addiction is skyrocketing, only a small margin of those struggling receive recovery help. This is because insurance companies tend to pay for just a small fraction of care, there are restrictions on what is covered, and under-resourced treatment programs tend to have long waiting lists.
In fact, in 2018, “approximately 3.7 million people 12 and older received any substance us treatment in the past year, which represents 1.4 percent of the population. These rates were similar in 2015 through 2017,” data shows.
Post-pandemic, many will require assistance also recovering from substances, and substance use treatment providers should be prepared to manage this.