PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- For months, coronavirus has been consuming headlines. But at this time last year, we were talking about a different health care crisis.
Opioid addiction hasn’t disappeared. In fact, in many ways it’s intensified during the pandemic, health experts say. They describe addiction as the “disease of isolation.”
According to officials at the Mayo Clinic, opioid-caused deaths across the U.S. are on the rise, and by their estimates, it’s only going to get worse, according to Dr. Halena Gazelka.
“We know that studies from the past, during times of economic downturn and jobless fear, uncertainty, addiction rates go up,” said Dr. Gazelka.
She said the biggest misconception surrounding addiction is the idea that these individuals are just out to have a good time. "The first time you take an opioid, you start here, you keep dropping you never get as high again. So imagine in this time during COVID-19, there’s so much to cope with,” said Dr. Gazelka.
A mental health crisis within a public health crisis is how Dr. Cynthia Townsend, who treats patients suffering from chronic pain, describes what’s happening.
“I hear it every day, the mundane details of our lives have become a challenge, whether it's going to work, the new routine of school, having financial security, have become the forefront of survival,” said Dr. Townsend.
And when COVID-19 forced hundreds of elective surgeries to be stalled, some patients looked elsewhere for pain relief. "This lack of access to medical care has been a major issue to this as well,” said Dr. Gazelka.
Even now, doctors at Mayo Clinic are still dealing with that backlog she said. They say virtual visits are helping with addictions across the board. They also want to remind us that 80% of people suffering from prescription medication abuse were first prescribe the drugs by a doctor.