In a June blog post, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), noted the increased severity of COVID-19 cases in patients with substance use disorder, commonly called addiction. Using the medical records of over 73 million people, Dr. Volkow and her colleagues conducted a study showing persons with addiction are at high risk for experiencing the virus’s worst possible outcomes. Similar tests in Korea, Texas, and New York City supported the results of Dr. Volkow’s study.
Prolonged use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances can lead to long-term medical conditions that may be worsened by COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a breakdown of the lasting effects of substance abuse, including the following:
- Stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamines) can lead to heart and lung disease.
- Smoking or vaping, whether it be tobacco, marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, or another inhalant, may worsen chronic lung conditions.
- Opioids can slow breathing, resulting in brain damage or death.
On July 14, The New York Times reported that over 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020. This number is a record high for substance abuse mortality, surpassing the peak statistics for deaths related to H.I.V., gun violence, and automobile accidents. Likewise, the CDC found that 13 percent of Americans reported beginning or increasing substance usage to manage the effects of COVID-19.
The rise in both substance use and overdose mortality is troubling, especially considering the long-term effects of COVID-19 on persons with addiction. These factors make this a particularly dangerous time for individuals abusing drugs, alcohol, and other substances.
Fortunately, there are some solutions. In her blog, Dr. Volkow states that people struggling with addictions should get vaccinated to reduce the risk of contracting long-term COVID-19 effects. While nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated at the time of this writing, many are still skeptical about the vaccine.
Recognizing that many Christians have legitimate questions about this medical development, theologian Curtis Chang started ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com. Chang’s website features interviews with members of the faith and scientific community, a pastor’s toolkit, news articles, and other resources for Christians experiencing vaccine skepticism. The CDC still recommends those unwilling or unable to receive the vaccine maintain prevention measures, including masking and avoiding crowds.
Though it is important to be cautious in these times, Christians should not be controlled by fear. It is crucial to remember Mordecai’s exhortation in Esther 4:14: “And who knows if perhaps you were made…for just such a time as this?” While disastrous and tragic, the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive increase in substance abuse are also opportunities for Christians worldwide to demonstrate that our hope is not in man but the Lord. As Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).