Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Hidden Deaths Casued By The Controlavirus Quarantine


KHN  |  Sara Wittner had seemingly gotten her life back under control. After a December relapse in her battle with drug addiction, the 32-year-old completed a 30-day detox program and started taking a monthly injection to block her cravings for opioids. She was engaged to be married, working for a local health association and counseling others about drug addiction.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The virus knocked down all the supports she had carefully built around her: no more in-person Narcotics Anonymous meetings, no talks over coffee with a trusted friend or her addiction recovery sponsor. As the virus stressed hospitals and clinics, her appointment to get the next monthly shot of medication was moved back from 30 days to 45 days.

As best her family could reconstruct from the messages on her phone, Wittner started using again on April 12, Easter Sunday, more than a week after her originally scheduled appointment, when she should have gotten her next injection. She couldn’t stave off the cravings any longer as she waited for her appointment that coming Friday. She used again that Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We kind of know her thought process was that ‘I can make it. I’ll go get my shot tomorrow,’” said her father, Leon Wittner. “‘I’ve just got to get through this one more day and then I’ll be OK.’”

But on Thursday morning, the day before her appointment, her sister Grace Sekera found her curled up in bed at her parents’ home in this Denver suburb, blood pooling on the right side of her body, foam on her lips, still clutching a syringe. Her father suspects she died of a fentanyl overdose.

However, he said, what really killed her was the coronavirus.

“Anybody that is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, anybody that has an alcohol issue and anybody with mental health issues, all of a sudden, whatever safety nets they had for the most part are gone,” he said. “And those are people that are living right on the edge of that razor.”

Sara Wittner’s death is just one example of how complicated it is to track the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic — and even what should be counted. Some people who get COVID-19 die of COVID-19. Some people who have COVID die of something else. And then there are people who die because of disruptions created by the pandemic.