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Will COVID kill us, or will we do the job ourselves? - (6/2/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro  

Joanie came into the pharmacy to get a refill on her Xanax®, a medication she uses for her anxiety. When the pharmacist called her to pick up her medicine, Joanie was nodding off in her chair. “Joanie, are you ok?” asked the pharmacist. “I’m just groggy from partying.” “You had a big party?” replied the pharmacist, who detected a whiff of pot coming from her. “Well, a party of one,” she said sheepishly. Joanie admitted to resuming her drinking ("The AA meetings have been canceled."). And she confessed to binge eating (“I’m afraid the food supply will be cut off.”). Joanie is not the only person to self-medicate her. And she got some “pills” from a “friend.” “I’m just so freaked out,” she said tearfully. 

COVID-19 is taxing our mental health. And why not? Our world has flipped on its axis. People are wearing masks, standing 6 feet apart, and worrying about getting very sick. Information overkill, rumors, and misinformation bombard us until our brains rattle in our crania. Will there be a vaccine? Maybe not. Will there be a drug? Maybe never. Will classrooms and restaurants ever be safe again? Maybe someday. Will life ever be the same? No. Not ever. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one may experience stress, fear, sadness, and loneliness. Mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and, in particular, substance abuse disorders (SUDs) can worsen, cautions the National Institute on Drug Abuse. People who fight their addictions do it "one day at a time. " Yet, they can lose their battle and succumb not only to their substance of choice but also to the coronavirus. Example: Because the virus travels airborne, smokers are more prone to pneumonia. As people around the globe world contend with COVID, the virus can hit some groups with SUDs with a lethal wallop. Because it attacks the lungs, the virus could be a particularly severe danger to those who smoke tobacco, marijuana, or those who vape. People who abuse opioids or methamphetamines can also be vulnerable due to those drugs' effects on the lungs. If eating is one’s panacea, know that obesity increases the risk of a serious breathing problem called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This syndrome is a huge complication of COVID-19 and can cause difficulties in providing respiratory support for seriously ill patients. 

But let’s get real, admits the pharmacist. You can toss around statistics and warnings until doomsday. Just as haters are going to hate, takers are going to take. Ask Joanie. That joint and that cocktail she takes are going to feel good even though her rent is late, and her lifelines are locked in their own hellish quarantines. She may get a stimulus check. However, she may use it to buy more weed, booze, pills, and junk food. Just to get her through another day. And, Joanie, another day may be your last. 

Perhaps that was what Charles Darwin meant when he said, "survival of the fittest." The fittest being those people who are strong and insightful enough to fight through the adversities of a mangled autocracy, an economic depression, and the deaths of those around us. So what leaves the most anxious of us to stumble into despair and death?

The Lebanese-American writer, poet, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran said, “Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but wanting to control it.” Humanity will make it through these grim times. On the other end, a different world will be waiting for us. The planet has changed numerous times after various global calamities, from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs to the would-be king who sucked the love right out of our souls. If we cannot accept that change or be willing to change, then we will experience our personal extinction. And no one else will care.   

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.  


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