Number of people seeking help with drug addiction surges during crisis

Discarded syringe (photo is illustrative).
Discarded syringe (photo is illustrative). Source: Martin Dremljuga/ERR

The number of people seeking help with their drug addiction has surged during the coronavirus crisis, AIDS Information and Support Center board member Nelli Kalikova told Tallinn municipal paper Pealinn.

"We've run out of methadone tablets; we got the last ones we could from pharmacies," Kalikova said. "We have also seen people with a record of addiction for 15-20 years and who have never been on treatment come to the AIDS Information and Support Center for assistance now."

According to Kalikova, the center has 180 spaces available for treatment, "and the very last ones we had to line up."

While initially they thought that the reason for the surge in demand for rehabilitation was drugs having become more expensive and scarce, it now seems as though the main reason was the 2+2 rule being enforced.

"What can you steal in a store when all customers are counted and you cannot punch in between them?" Kalikova continued. "It's the same on the street — how can you steal a wallet when everyone's keeping their distance from others? They just have no money to buy drugs. Especially when less drugs are available during the crisis and they are more expensive."

As people remain home and their cars are parked right outside their windows, burgling homes or cars is not an option for drug addicts either, Kalikova added.

Greete Org, an experience counselor at the nonprofit Convictus, also said that difficult times are forcing addicts to seek help.

"We've received calls where the caller admits that they have lost their job, have quarreled with their loved ones and are ready to quit," Org said.

According to the counselor, the increase in unemployment caused by the crisis may lead to a chain reaction in the family of an addict.

"Difficult times cause anxiety, while they also force one to revise one's lifestyle," she explained. "We've been asked by many a person for advice  and help on how to give up drug abuse."

Org said that Convictus' harm reduction center is helping clients seven days a week.

"Currently we are advising clients from Monday through Sunday by phone, social media as well as email," she said, adding that the center is supporting both addicts and their next-of-kin alike.

Aljona Kurbatova, head of the Infectious Diseases and Drug Abuse Prevention Department of the National Institute for Health Development (TAI), said that the narcotics being sold on the street during the crisis are weaker and could contain additives ranging from cat food to household chemicals.

"The substances added may be seemingly innocent substances, but also household chemicals such as rat poison," she warned.

According to Kalikova, with methadone treatment, an addict can feel better in five to six days already, and once the family sees that the addict is becoming stable again, they can be permitted to return home.

"The social changes and changes to one's health are very big," she said. "Our duty is to turn the addict into someone who doesn't do drugs. We eventually reduce the dose of medical methadone to zero as well."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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