We owe a lot to vaccines and the scientists that develop them. But we've only just touched the surface of what vaccines can do.
- "Vaccines are the best thing science has ever given us," says Larry Brilliant, founding president and acting chairman of Skoll Global Threats. From smallpox, to Ebola, to polio, scientists have successful fought viruses and saved millions of lives. So what's next?
- As Covaxx (formerly United Neuroscience) cofounder Lou Reese explains in this video, the issue with vaccines is that they don't work against "non-external threats." This is a problem, especially now when internal threats (things that cause cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) are killing people more than external threats like viruses.
- The future of vaccine tech, which scientists are already working toward today, is developing safe vaccines to eradicate these destructive internal agents without harming our bodies in the process.
Being aware of this issue is a big first step in helping vulnerable communities (such as those struggling with addiction) combat relapse during this pandemic.
- Many mental health and addiction professionals are worried that the lockdown, quarantine and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a surge in relapses of individuals who are struggling with sobriety at this time.
- Stress, loneliness, isolation, boredom and a lack of support for the addiction community are the biggest triggers for relapse right now.
- However, being aware of these triggers and supporting those in your life struggling with addiction through the help of online platforms can be a way to combat relapses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 and addiction: why are relapses more common during a pandemic?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI1NDQ5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTY2NjE5N30.O8-wjlJ6A0gvC6YmmsR_V-vnL62DrgstTMudYLonNZU/img.jpg?width=980" id="2f3ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="466760f8bdb0b8bf1ce93ec8c88bddc3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sad woman thinking COVID-19 addiction relapse potential" />
Stress, declining mental health, lack of community support and boredom can all trigger relapse - being aware of this can help prevent it.
Photo by Monster e on Shutterstock<p><strong>Stress and declining mental health can contribute to relapse potential</strong></p><p><a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Health/lot-struggles-recovering-addicts-coronavirus-creates-challenge-stay/story?id=69914643" target="_blank">Dayry Hulkow</a>, the primary therapist at Arete Recovery Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida explains,<em> "We have already seen relapses happening, moments of crisis, obviously a lot of mental health issues associated with the addiction and all the stresses that are going on in the world right now." </em></p> <p>Hulkow, like many other addiction specialists, fears the pandemic will grow the rate of relapse of those struggling with addictions all around the world. </p> <p><strong>Community supports sobriety, isolation triggers relapse</strong></p><p>The idea that community is a large part (maybe the most important part) of maintaining a sober lifestyle <a href="https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/addiction-recovery-community" target="_self">has been proven</a> - and with many areas of the world on lockdown with orders not to attend gatherings or support groups, the fear of relapse is a well-placed one. </p> <p>Licensed mental health counselor <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/americans-addiction-rrelapse-coronavirus" target="_blank">Denny Kolsch</a> explains the issue with lockdown orders and addiction recovery, <em>"The message we are receiving is to stay away from people. Isolate. Don't be around people - and for people that are in recovery, that's a recipe for disaster."</em></p> <p><strong>Boredom and limited access to the outside world can cause negative feelings that often lead to relapse</strong></p><p><em>"Also, there is boredom," </em>explains Hulkow, <em>"having to stay at home with very limited access to the outside world, hobbies, meetings, and employment can be triggering as well." </em></p> <p>Adding to that being quarantined in close-quarters with family members or friends, there could be family disputes or arguments that are also triggering for people who are recovering from addiction. </p><p>Relapses are common throughout the journey to sobriety from drugs and/or alcohol - in fact, Addiction Center states that up to 60% of individuals struggling with addiction will have at least one relapse before reaching sobriety.<br></p> <p>This is especially more likely during a time where people may be isolated at home, feeling anxious by the news or fearful for their health or the health of their loved ones. </p> <p>Family members and friends of loved ones who struggle with addiction should be particularly mindful during stressful times such as a pandemic, as there may be signs that your loved one is struggling and nearing a relapse. </p> <p><strong>Some signs of relapse during a pandemic can include: </strong></p><ul><li>Change in eating or sleeping habits </li><li>Declining hygiene</li><li>Lying or manipulative behavior</li><li>Glamorizing past drug/alcohol use</li><li>Bottling up emotion and/or mood swings that are unpredictable</li><li>Feelings or messages of hopelessness ("I just don't see a point in…") </li></ul>
How to cope with the relapse potential during a pandemic<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI1NDY4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Mzk5Nzc3Mn0.kiYXjsLXLMVEfzloHai0ucad-6jtl01YInQmVyZdvxU/img.jpg?width=980" id="5c40d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c4c15e764ae974720700900b7f2eee24" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of online support group AA/NA meeting during COVID-19 pandemic" />
Online support groups, AA/NA meetings and virtual coffee dates can be a great way to stay in touch with members of the community and support each other during this stressful time.
Photo by Nadia Snopek on Shutterstock<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a lot of problems for the general population, and these problems can be amplified and magnified by at-risk populations such as people struggling with addiction.</p><p>The shock of going through a pandemic can cause confusion, loneliness, panic, stress, and fear - all of which can be triggers for relapse. Adding to that being isolated or quarantined in your home (either by yourself or with others) can bring on boredom, irritation, and feelings of inadequacy, again - all of which can be contributing factors to a relapse. </p> <p><strong>How to cope with addiction during quarantine: </strong></p><ul><li>Alternative self-care methods (meditation, reflection, journaling) can help you find a new perspective and stay in tune with your feelings, which makes it much easier to spot (and prevent) a relapse.</li></ul> <ul><li>Maintain contact with your outside supports for sobriety - attend virtual AA/NA meetings, phone hotlines, or keep in regular contact with your sober friends to support each other. An entrepreneur based in New York City has launched an app called <a href="https://loosidapp.com/" target="_blank">Loosid</a>, which is dedicated to providing hotlines and online services to assist those struggling with addiction during this time. As of April 2020, the app has seen over 60,000 users - the app creator, M.J Gottlieb, tells ABC News that there has been a 93.8% increase in active users during the pandemic. </li></ul> <ul><li>Create a routine for yourself to occupy your mind and body, preventing boredom which can cause overthinking and stressful thoughts. </li></ul> <ul><li>Staying active or creating an exercise schedule in your home can provide you with a rush of feel-good hormones (endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline) that can help your body stay healthy during the quarantine. </li></ul> <p><strong>Awareness is key in preventing a relapse and maintaining positive mental health</strong></p><p>While<a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/social-distancing-math" target="_self"> social distancing</a> and lockdown measures have been put into place for very valid reasons, we simply cannot ignore the massive impact this has on our more vulnerable populations (people struggling with homelessness, addictions, and mental health conditions). The best way to support each other during this difficult time is to use online platforms to stay in contact and reconnect, keeping in mind that this is a very difficult time for some people. </p> <p>Being aware that the loved one in your life who has struggled with addiction in the past may relapse could be key to helping them stay sober. </p>
Next up on the top 10 countdown, Big Think's sixth most popular video illustrates the mental fireworks of a psychedelic experience.
- Big Think's #6 most popular video of 2019 explains the ego's "location" in the brain: It would be the default mode network, where much of your self-critical mind chatter happens. Taking psychedelics down-regulates this brain network.
- Researchers describe the effect of psychedelics as "letting the brain off its leash", or firing the conductor to let the orchestra play. Without the default mode network acting as a dictator, areas of the brain that don't normally interact meet, producing phenomena like hallucinations and synesthesia.
- An overactive ego may be what punishes those of us plagued with anxiety, addiction and mental health disorders. Psychedelics can have a beneficial effect by temporarily killing the ego, jogging the brain out of negative thinking patterns.
A harrowing new report by the CDC should serve as a wake-up call.
- STD rates have risen every year since 2013, with 2017 showing the largest increase.
- Syphilis passed from mothers to babies is causing easily preventable infant deaths.
- STDs are easy to cure so far — the key is getting regularly tested.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis<p>The statistics are sobering in the period from 2017 to 2018 alone. The CDC reports:</p> <ul> <li>Gonorrhea cases have increased 5%, to more than 580,000 cases. This is the highest number of infections reported since 1991.</li> <li>Chlamydia has set a new record, more than 1.7 million cases, an increase of 3% throughout 2017.</li> <li>There were 115,000 cases of syphilis. The STD is most infectious during its primary and secondary stages, and these increased by 14% to 35,000 cases. During 2017, syphilis in newborns rose to 1,300 cases, an increase of 40%. Underscoring its source is that syphilis among women of child-bearing age went up by almost an identical amount, 36%.</li> </ul> <p>Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, the most common sexually transmitted infections, can be cured with antibiotics (for now). Left untreated, the STDs can lead to transmission to other people, as well as "adverse health outcomes such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased HIV risk," says the CDC.</p><p>And of course, there's the congenital syphilis killing babies. Most states in the U.S. have reported cases, though 70% of them are concentrated in just five states: Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana.</p><p>The heartbreaking loss of newborn life is easily avoidable. Gail Bolan of the CDC says, "There are tools available to prevent every case of congenital syphilis. Testing is simple and can help women to protect their babies from syphilis — a preventable disease that can have irreversible consequences."</p><p>It's for this reason the CDC recommends that all women get tested the first time they visit their healthcare provider upon becoming pregnant, and — if they live in high-risk areas — they should get tested a second time at the start of their third trimester and again before delivery. This advice applies even to expectant mothers who aren't currently sexually active. In addition to being transmissible through genital, oral, and anal sex, there are <a href="https://www.hivplusmag.com/wellness/2016/8/24/yes-you-can-get-sexually-transmitted-infection-without-having-sex" target="_blank">plenty of other ways</a> to quietly pick up an STD infection.</p><p>There's good reason not to put off getting an STD and STI checkup. Gonorrhea is one of the worrying bacteria becoming <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2018/press-release-2018-std-prevention-conference.html" target="_blank">increasingly resistant</a> to antibiotics, according to both the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/figures/31.htm" target="_blank">CDC</a> and the <a href="https://www.popsci.com/antibiotic-resistant-gonorrhea-getting-worse/" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a>, who report that it currently afflicts about 78 million people worldwide each year. According to the WHO's Teodora Wi, "The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."</p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/images/2018/std/std-infographic-complete.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjAxMzk3OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzEzNDg5MH0.e5FKQAsj1dQ4ePvc5IovpMG9ve4-Nf21WlhhIOwcNsI/img.jpg?width=980" id="0d4d9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99b196c36f8ccca00d3eab59e589eed6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /></a>
Image source: CDC
Why are STD rates on the rise<p>The CDC cites three likely reasons:</p> <ul> <li><em>Drug use, poverty, stigma, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to STD prevention and care</em></li> <li><em>Decreased condom use among vulnerable groups, including young people and gay and bisexual men</em></li> <li><em>Cuts to STD programs at the state and local level — in recent years, more than half of local programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in clinic closures, reduced screening, staff loss, and reduced patient follow-up and linkage to care services</em></li> </ul> <p>The subtext of the CDC's third bullet point about local programs being cut is that there's a compelling statistical <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6806a4.htm?s_cid=mm6806a4_w" target="_blank">intersection</a> between the increase in drug use — particularly meth — and heterosexual syphilis. The CDC proposes new collaborations between STD control programs and substance-use disorder services providers — not cutting back such programs as seen recently.</p><p>Finally, the stigma attached to having an STD or STI is real, and many would simply prefer to assume they don't have one. This is despite the <a href="http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/" target="_blank">estimate</a> that among sexually active people, some 80% will have an STI (with STDs being a subset of these) at some point in their lives. Since many of these infections, especially STIs, present no symptoms, it's easy to opt out of testing.</p><p>This is obviously a bad idea. It's much smarter to get tested regularly and, if necessary, treated. Encourage your partners and friends to get tested — without making fun — and be forthcoming and honest if you have an infection. Use condoms religiously, and when your healthcare provider inquires about your activities, be honest.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjAxMzk4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjE1Nzk2Nn0.aNO_juWC7eiHw9FeIbDm9FzpbeZFuGlFCoZfMXQSD4s/img.jpg?width=980" id="0e1c1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="040584d269d8e02c06c28877e222311d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: celiafoto/Shutterstock
Dr. Joel Smithers was recently sentenced to decades in prison for the numerous illegal prescriptions he gave out.
- According to law enforcement officials, every individual who visited Smithers' practice in Martinsville, Virginia, was given an opioid prescription.
- Patients traveled hundreds of miles to visit his practice, where Smithers only accepted cash or credit cards and not insurance.
- Smithers and similar doctors represent one part of the chain of responsible parties who contributed to the opioid epidemic.
Naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
Photo credit: Bernard Weil / Toronto Star via Getty Images<p>We typically conceive of opioid addicts as buying illegal drugs such as heroin from a dealer in an alley, but the reality is that most addicts are getting their vice through legal channels, such as was the case with Smithers. According to a <a href="https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/substance-use-disorder/opioid-epidemic-who-blame" target="_blank">report</a> by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, less than 5 percent of users get their opioids from a drug dealer, while nearly a quarter got their opioids from a single doctor.</p><p>While the opioid epidemic would not be possible without the contribution of unethical doctors, the role of pharmaceutical companies cannot be ignored either. Purdue Pharma, for instance, spent years misleading doctors on the dangers of their flagship product, OxyContin. Richard Sackler, then-president of the company, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/health/sacklers-purdue-oxycontin-opioids.html" target="_blank">wrote</a> in a 2001 email that, "We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible." Doing so would shift the blame from pharmaceutical companies' unethical behavior to drug user's moral failings. "They are the culprits of the problem," wrote Sackler. "They are reckless criminals." </p><p>After being sued for more than $10 billion in damages, Purdue Pharma recently filed for <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-purduepharma-bankruptcy/purdue-pharma-seeks-to-halt-opioid-suits-against-company-sacklers-idUSKBN1W334C" target="_blank">bankruptcy</a>.</p><p>Purdue Pharma is far from the only pharmaceutical company that played a role in the opioid epidemic. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/health/opioids-settlement-johnson.html?module=inline" target="_blank">Johnson & Johnson</a> recently became the fifth pharmaceutical company to settle in order to avoid going to trial over their part in the opioid crisis, agreeing to pay $20.4 million.</p><p>Pharma representatives' jobs are to convince doctors to prescribe their products, and while this can take the form of disinformation, often pharmaceutical companies convince doctors through speaking opportunities, conferences, trips, and free meals. One often-cited study found a significant correlation between pharmaceutical spending of this kind and how frequently doctors prescribed opioids. Specifically, taking doctors out for meals was the <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/pharma-spending-on-doctors-is-correlated-with-opioid-deaths/" target="_blank">biggest predictor</a> of whether that doctor would write more opioid prescriptions. </p><p>Regulating such behavior and revising drug policy has become a focus in the 2020 election as well. The <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/presidential-candidates-opioid-plans" target="_self">candidates' strategies</a> for handling the opioid epidemic vary significantly, but for the most part, they target much-needed changes to drug treatment policy, such as increasing the availability of naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses; prioritizing treatment over incarceration for addicts; regulating when doctors can prescribe painkillers; and other policy changes.</p><p>There are a lot of parties that bear responsibility in developing the opioid crisis, including doctors like Smithers. Fortunately, there is reason to be optimistic. Provisional data from the CDC shows that the reported number of opioid deaths from 2018 to 2019 have decreased by <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm" target="_blank">3.9 percent</a>. While it's a small figure, hopefully it's the beginning of a long-term reversal in the opioid epidemic.</p>