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Studies show hard impact of COVID lockdown

HOUGHTON — The Daily Mining Gazette, on Oct. 12, looked at two COVID-19 lockdown-related surveys, conducted by different websites. One, a real estate website, ISoldMyHome.com, conducted a survey that found that more than 1 in three (35% of) Michiganders, aged 18-35, have “boomeranged” back to their parent’s homes over the past year.

The other website was an online solitaire game platform, spider-solitaire challenge.com, conducted a survey of 3,500 respondents on how people attempted to busy themselves during the lockdown.

The spider-solitaire challenge site stated:

“Devoid of social interaction over the past year, many of us are well-acquainted with being bored at home. You’ve read every magazine and watched your entire Netflix list; started a garden (which seems to be taking forever to grow) and made every banana bread recipe under the sun; but no matter what, your brain feels sluggish and unstimulated. Maybe you’ve accidentally put the milk in the cupboard and cereal in the fridge one too many times lately… Enter the term “pandemic brain“: the frustratingly subtle, gradual mental deterioration many of us have struggled with over the course of the pandemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the “Pandemic Brain” beyond a fun survey when it reported that as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Overdoses have also spiked since the onset of the pandemic. A reporting system called ODMAP (Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program) shows that the early months of the pandemic brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) on Dec. 8, 2020, published a report titled Preparing for the Behavioral Health Impact of COVID-19 in Michigan. The report stated that The Michigan “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order effectively diminished the spread of COVID-19, but it increased social isolation and weakened residents’ access to their support systems, such as friends, extended family, co-workers, teachers, and religious communities. Michigan’s executive order and residents’ own efforts to avoid infection created large economic consequences, closing businesses (some temporarily but others permanently), spiking unemployment rates, and creating widespread financial stress.

The report went on to state that in Michigan, alcohol sales increased 41% and marijuana purchases nearly doubled in nine months since the lockdown was announced. The use of alcohol and other substances had also been shown to increase with unemployment during prior economic recessions.

“Although results of large-scale SUD studies during the pandemic are not yet available,” the report stated, “at least one Michigan healthcare system reported a 20-30% increase in new patients with SUDs by May 2020, suggesting a rising incidence of SUDs Substance Use Disorders).”

In other words, while various elements of the pandemic lockdown exacerbated problems for those suffering from SUDs, they also contributed to increases in new and developing SUDs.

An Oct. 26, 2020, report, published by the University of Michigan Health Lab, stated that:

“A real-time tracking system that launched in 2019 shows a 15% rise in suspected opioid overdose deaths across most of Michigan within a seven-month span since March, compared with the same time last year, and a 29% rise in first responders’ use of a rescue drug called naloxone that can reverse an opioid overdose if given in time. The deaths started rising soon after the pandemic arrived in Michigan, while naloxone use dipped before rising to new heights later in the spring and summer.”

The report, using U of M data, found a pattern between people avoiding emergency department care and the spike in opioid-related deaths.

“While we don’t have a cause-and-effect explanation for what we’re seeing, we know that in the first few months after the pandemic arrived in Michigan, many people were avoiding emergency departments unless they had severe symptoms of COVID-19,” Injury Prevention Center’s director Patrick Carter, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, is quoted as saying. “The increase in opioid-related fatalities during those initial months appears to fit this pattern. The isolation and stress of the pandemic, the loss of jobs and therefore insurance that might cover substance abuse treatment, and even changes in how people have gathered during these months, may all play a role in how people are using opioids, including relapsing during recovery. Efforts to distribute naloxone and engage in peer counseling also decreased during the early months of the pandemic, as public health agencies focused on the virus.”

The report revealed, also that a county-level map shows that from March to mid-September (2020), the counties hit hardest by COVID-19 during the spring surge also had the largest relative increases in overdose deaths. But, naloxone administrations were up across most of the southern and middle Lower Peninsula, while they dropped in the Upper Peninsula.

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