Covid survivors are in danger from a potential second pandemic, this time of opioid dependancy, given the excessive charge of painkillers being prescribed to those sufferers, well being specialists say.
A brand new examine in Nature discovered alarmingly excessive charges of opioid use amongst covid survivors with lingering signs at Veterans Well being Administration services. About 10% of covid survivors develop “lengthy covid,” battling usually disabling well being issues even six months or longer after a prognosis.
For each 1,000 long-covid sufferers, generally known as “lengthy haulers,” who have been handled at a Veterans Affairs facility, docs wrote 9 extra prescriptions for opioids than they in any other case would have, together with 22 further prescriptions for benzodiazepines, which embrace Xanax and different addictive drugs used to deal with anxiousness.
Though earlier research have discovered many covid survivors expertise persistent well being issues, the brand new article is the primary to point out they’re utilizing extra addictive medicines, mentioned Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the paper’s lead writer.
He’s involved that even an apparently small enhance within the inappropriate use of addictive ache drugs will result in a resurgence of the prescription opioid disaster, given the big variety of covid survivors. Greater than 3 million of the 31 million Individuals contaminated with covid develop long-term signs, which might embrace fatigue, shortness of breath, melancholy, anxiousness and reminiscence issues generally known as “mind fog.”
The brand new examine additionally discovered many sufferers have vital muscle and bone ache.
The frequent use of opioids was stunning, given issues about their potential for dependancy, mentioned Al-Aly, chief of analysis and training service on the VA St. Louis Well being Care System.
“Physicians now are imagined to draw back from prescribing opioids,” mentioned Al-Aly, who studied greater than 73,000 sufferers within the VA system. When Al-Aly noticed the variety of opioids prescriptions, he mentioned, he thought to himself, “Is that this actually taking place yet again?”
Docs must act now, earlier than “it’s too late to do one thing,” Al-Aly mentioned. “We should act now and be sure that individuals are getting the care they want. We are not looking for this to balloon right into a suicide disaster or one other opioid epidemic.”
As extra docs grew to become conscious of their addictive potential, new opioid prescriptions fell, by greater than half since 2012. However U.S. docs nonetheless prescribe much more of the medicine — which embrace OxyContin, Vicodin and codeine — than physicians in different international locations, mentioned Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid coverage analysis at Brandeis College.
Some sufferers who grew to become hooked on prescription painkillers switched to heroin, both as a result of it was cheaper or as a result of they might not receive opioids from their docs. Overdose deaths surged in recent times as drug sellers started spiking heroin with a robust artificial opioid referred to as fentanyl.
Greater than 88,000 Individuals died from overdoses throughout the 12 months ending in August 2020, in response to the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. Well being specialists now advise docs to keep away from prescribing opioids for lengthy intervals.
The brand new examine “suggests to me that many clinicians nonetheless don’t get it,” Kolodny mentioned. “Many clinicians are beneath the misunderstanding that opioids are acceptable for power ache sufferers.”
Hospitalized covid sufferers usually obtain numerous medicine to manage ache and anxiousness, particularly in intensive care models, mentioned Dr. Greg Martin, president of the Society of Crucial Care Medication. Sufferers positioned on ventilators, for instance, are sometimes sedated to make them extra snug.
Martin mentioned he’s involved by the examine’s findings, which counsel sufferers are unnecessarily persevering with medicines after leaving the hospital.
“I fear that covid-19 sufferers, particularly those that are severely and critically in poor health, obtain numerous medicines throughout the hospitalization, and since they’ve persistent signs, the medicines are continued after hospital discharge,” Martin mentioned.
Whereas some covid sufferers are experiencing muscle and bone ache for the primary time, others say the sickness has intensified their preexisting ache.
Rachael Sunshine Burnett has suffered from power ache in her again and ft for 20 years, ever since an accident at a warehouse the place she as soon as labored. However Burnett, who first was recognized with covid in April 2020, mentioned the ache quickly grew to become 10 instances worse and unfold to the realm between her shoulders and backbone. Though she was already taking long-acting OxyContin twice a day, her physician prescribed an extra opioid referred to as oxycodone, which relieves ache instantly. She was reinfected with covid in December.
“It’s been a horrible, horrible 12 months,” mentioned Burnett, 43, of Coxsackie, New York.
Docs ought to acknowledge that ache will be part of lengthy covid, Martin mentioned. “We have to discover the right non-narcotic remedy for it, similar to we do with different types of power ache,” he mentioned.
The CDC recommends numerous alternate options to opioids — from bodily remedy to biofeedback, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, antidepressants and anti-seizure medicine that additionally relieve nerve ache.
The nation additionally wants an total technique to deal with the wave of post-covid issues, Al-Aly mentioned
“It’s higher to be ready than to be caught off guard years from now, when docs notice … ‘Oh, we now have a resurgence in opioids,’” Al-Aly mentioned.
Al-Aly famous that his examine could not seize the total complexity of post-covid affected person wants. Though ladies make up nearly all of long-covid sufferers in most research, most sufferers within the VA system are males.
The examine of VA sufferers makes it “abundantly clear that we’re not ready to fulfill the wants of three million Individuals with lengthy covid,” mentioned Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Analysis Translational Institute. “We desperately want an intervention that may successfully deal with these people.”
Al-Aly mentioned covid survivors might have look after years.
“That’s going to be an enormous, vital burden on the well being care system,” Al-Aly mentioned. “Lengthy covid will reverberate within the well being system for years and even many years to come back.”