Prevention Can Happen Anywhere and Is Essential, Especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 7, 2020

May 10-16 Is National Prevention Week

MERCERVILLE - Mental health and substance use have become even more important topics amid the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as anxiety and depression related to the crisis have led to new and exacerbated cases of mental illness and drug use. In 2014, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, 20.2 million adults in the United States had a substance use disorder. Of the 20.2 million people using substances, 7.9 million also had a mental illness, which makes the treatment of each disorder more difficult. Substance use disorder researchers believe that the trauma associated with a pandemic will increase the rate of addiction. This idea is supported by a 2006 study conducted by the University of South Carolina on alcohol and cigarette use and misuse among Hurricane Katrina survivors. It showed that 36 percent of people surveyed met the criteria for hazardous and harmful drinking.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that smoking and vaping could harm lung cells and lessen the ability to respond to infection. People struggling with an opioid use disorder are also at higher risk for COVID-19 because opioid use slows breathing and can result in a decrease in oxygen in the blood. Individuals who misuse opioids and contract COVID-19 are significantly more vulnerable. Those who have a substance use disorder most likely also have decreased access to health care and housing and a greater likelihood of being incarcerated, which increases vulnerability to coronavirus and other illnesses.

"Prevention efforts are valuable. However, access to prevention programs may be limited during the pandemic with schools and many businesses being closed. Therefore, the next best option is early intervention," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President, and CEO of New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies. "The sooner mental illnesses and substance use disorders are diagnosed and the earlier treatment begins, the more likely treatment will be successful. Early intervention can help mitigate symptoms, prevent illnesses from becoming severe and, therefore, save lives."

National Prevention Week is a public education platform created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). National Prevention Week takes place from May 10 to 16 and promotes year-round prevention by providing ideas for both awareness and capacity building, tools and resources to help individuals and communities. The daily themes this year are as follows: "Preventing Prescription Drug and Opioid Misuse" (May 11), "Preventing Underage Drinking and Alcohol Misuse" (May 12), "Preventing Illicit Drug Use and Youth Marijuana Use" (May 13), Preventing Youth Tobacco Use (May 14), and "Preventing Suicide" (May 15).

SAMHSA has resources for National Prevention Week on its website that can be accessed here. There is also a social media challenge this year called "Prevention Happens Here". To participate, fill out the sign (click here), print it out, take a selfie with it, and share it on social media using the hashtag "#PreventionHappensHere". Participating in this social media campaign not only increases awareness of National Prevention Week. It also shows that substance misuse and suicide prevention happens in various communities, places and spaces.

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