Speaking this morning to TVNZ 1’s Breakfast, Kyle MacDonald said withdrawing cold turkey from drugs or alcohol during the lockdown would take place for some people in the next three weeks as they lose access to their usual drugs.
That could be an issue, as those people would then be forced to seek medical help.
“My basic advice is to try as much as possible to stick to normal usage patterns,” Mr MacDonald said.
“One of the things that occurred to me when we went into lockdown is what are all the people out there that are addicted to methamphetamines, to synthetic cannabis, to cannabis itself, what are all those people going to do to actually maintain themselves in a state of equilibrium for the next four weeks?
“Let’s be really clear – the best kind of use is no use, and if you’re someone who abstains from drugs and alcohol then it’s a really good idea to stick to that plan – and to recognise that this is an incredibly stressful time for all of us, including those who are struggling with addiction.
“My concern is that at some point during these four weeks, the people that are actively addicted to methamphetamine or other substances are going to hit a point where they are no longer able to access their drug, and we’re going to face potentially a wave of problems – whether that be in terms of people withdrawing and having to turn up to hospitals, or whether that be in terms of crime, and of course pharmacies remain open.
“So I think it’s really worth us thinking about how to tackle this problem proactively, and maybe even looking at finding a prescribed alternative that we can actually maintain people through, much like we do with methadone.
He said bottle stores are truly essential to some people, as their alcohol addiction could lead to withdrawal symptoms if they were to stop altogether.
“It’s not for the people in the suburbs who need a bottle of wine, it’s actually for the people who could actually be in severe medical trouble if they withdraw suddenly for alcohol.
“For the rest of us, try to minimise your use, stick to your normal use patterns, don’t drink on your own, jump on Skype or whatever and have a drink with a mate like you normally do, but actually for those who are severely addicted its actually medically important that they maintain that access to alcohol.”
Mr MacDonald said the best thing to do, for those struggling with drugs or alcohol during the lockdown, is to call the national helpline on 1737 – addiction specialists are available 24/7.
For people in a bubble with someone struggling with addiction, the best advice is to try to get that person to slow down and talk about how they are feeling, Mr MacDonald said.
“To get them to slow down and connect with those feelings that they’re trying to avoid – all of us together are in this and we’re feeling that anxiety and that tension,” he said.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH: SUPPORT SERVICES REMAIN AVAILABLE
A spokesperson for the Minister of Health said alcohol and other drug addiction services have been identified as essential services during the lockdown period.
“This means there is an expectation that as much as possible and practical, services are available for those that need them while the country is at Covid-19 Alert Level 4,” they said.
“We know that many organisations are tailoring their services for our current context, working remotely, using technology etc., and we encourage and support that.
“Residential and in-patient services may have less flexibility in this regard but we still expect these services to be operating as much as is feasible and safe to do so.
“All New Zealanders are in isolation during the lockdown and this should not prevent admission into essential mental health and addiction services for those that need them.
“People within residential care are being treated voluntarily and have a legal right to leave their facility to be with family.
“We are aware that some AOD (Alcohol or Other Drugs) residential care services had already closed after Whaiora indicated they wished to leave prior to the Alert Level being raised.
“For the sake of clarity and reducing anxiety for Whaiora, where this step has already occurred we have agreed that services can remain closed while Alert Level 4 is in place.
“However services that have closed should still be supporting clients remotely.”