Alcohol abuse cries surge
A quadrupling of reports of alcohol excesses in the last four months has raised concerns among substance-abuse experts that stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 may be driving more people to the bottle.
Executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), Michael Tucker, said that there were more than 200 calls to the council’s national substance abuse helpline between June and September compared to less than 50 for the corresponding period last year.
“This may be an indication that problematic substance use may be on the rise,” Tucker said.
Jamaica is one of several Caribbean and Latin American countries currently participating in a hemispheric survey aimed at determining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug use.
The survey is being undertaken by the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.
“A deeper understanding of the local context in relation to mental health and substance misuse is an urgent need. Beyond this is the need for exposure to regional and international best practice,” said Tucker during a virtual mental-health conference on Tuesday to commemorate World Mental Health Day.
“We know that people who suffer from mental-health disorders often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton launched on Tuesday a COVID-19 Mental Health Response Programme aimed at mitigating the progression of mental-health issues that have emerged, or are anticipated to arise, resulting from the global coronavirus outbreak.
The programme will be supported with a $20-million budget.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic is affecting the mental health of many people,” Tufton said in Parliament.
“In the general population, we hear of the elevated levels of fear, anxiety and loneliness from children and parents who access the child and adolescent mental-health clinics. They admit to feeling overwhelmed and not being able to manage the demands of online schooling,” Tufton said.
Director of mental health and substance abuse in the Ministry of Health & Wellness, Dr Kevin Goulbourne, said that the pandemic has forced mental-health professionals to become more innovative and creative in continuing the provision of mental-health services.
“These additional patients have a range of mental-health issues which are directly and indirectly related to COVID-19 due to isolation, fear of being infected, loss of relatives and friends, compounded by loss of income or job,” said Goulbourne.