Opioid Addiction and Natural Disaster: The Perfect Storm

Opioid Addiction and Natural Disaster: The Perfect Storm

In times of natural disaster, such as a hurricane, it is our initial priority to show concern for those who are at risk of losing their physical belongings. In this case, it’s critical to consider those who dealing with addiction in times of a natural disaster. However, lives and material objects aren’t the only things at risk.

Something that is not considered during these terrifying times is how people with drug addictions are dealing with the complications. Addiction and recovery is a challenging process even without the added stress of a natural disaster. For those dealing with the impact of a major storm and a pre-existing dependence, it can be even more strenuous. One particular subgroup of those suffering that faces this challenge is opioid drug users.

Unfortunately, opioid addicts in active recovery during a natural disaster face three unfavorable options: risk their life trying to access medicinal drugs at clinics and hospitals, attempt to deal head-on with debilitating withdrawal effects, or relapse.  Some desperate addicts go so far as to venture out into the storm to try and receive drugs like methadone, buprenorphine or naloxone.

These drugs act as opioid blockers; utilized to control the withdrawal symptoms. For those seeking blockers, the regulations that accompany methadone doses, especially, are rigorous. Users are required to go to a designated clinic in order to receive their dose. They are not permitted to bring home and use their doses solitarily until a significant amount of time has passed that shows that they are clean of other drugs. Thus, preparing for the inability to travel or leave home for some days following a major hurricane is difficult for many, when they can’t easily access these drugs.

Hurricanes put many lives at risk. Unfortunately, the addiction that opioid users face only puts more civilians at risk. After the hurricane has come and gone, the temptation and difficulty that comes with recovery do not subside. Successfully recovered and in-recovery addicts struggle to maintain their sobriety in times of high stress. For them, the temptation of returning to opioid use due to the stressful emotions faced in times of a hurricane is a constant struggle. “Disasters cause stress, and stress can cause relapse for people struggling with addiction, whether their problem is alcohol, tobacco, pills or heroin”1. The stress that comes with catastrophic hurricanes, such as hurricane Harvey and hurricane Irma, tempts past users to want to return to the drug for therapeutic reasons.

For users and in-recovery addicts in Miami, they were given an increased chance of facing hurricane Irma with limited complications and stress. Clinics were participating in programs that provided extra needles and methadone doses for in-recovery addicts to prepare for the storms. This may not have solved the problem, but it brought aid to those who needed it. Thanks to the preparation clinics provided to in-recovery addicts, Miami was given the opportunity to have more potential survivors, volunteers, and heroes than it did potential victims. The clinics participating in those programs allowed the people suffering from a terrible disease called addiction, an increased chance to survive a life-threatening storm as comfortably as possible.


Johnson, C. K., & Merchant, N. (2017, September 9). Hurricanes Drive Addiction Issues into Public Square. Retrieved September 16, 2017, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/hurricanes-drive-addiction-issues-public-square-49722960

Brico, E. (2017, September 11). They were Opioid Addicts on Their Way to Recovery. Then the Hurricane Hit. Retrieved September 16, 2017, from https://www.vox.com/first-person/2017/9/8/16273590/hurricane-harvey-irma-methadone-heroin-addiction

de la Cretaz, B. (2017, September 1). What Happens to Drug Users During a Natural Disaster. Retrieved September 16, 2017, from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/hurricane-harvey-what-happens-to-drug-users-during-a-storm-w500734

Davies, D. M. (2017, August 30). Hurricane Harvey: Addicted And Evacuated Can be a Harsh Condition. Retrieved September 16, 2017, from http://tpr.org/post/hurricane-harvey-addicted-and-evacuated-can-be-harsh-combination#stream/0

Katelyn Gemelli

My high school psychology teacher and a course in abnormal psychology has helped me to discover a love for psychology and has made me strive to try to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by mental health. Furthermore, from volunteering as a Crisis Counselor for a crisis text-line, I have seen firsthand how challenging mental illnesses can be to live. My aim is that, over time and with the aid of The Humanology Project, people can get the help they need for their mental health/illnesses without fear or concern of judgement. A little about me includes my favorite place in the world being the Poconos Mountains, and that I have an unhealthy obsession with reading books, and Game of Thrones.

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