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opioid abuse

Substance abuse on the rise during pandemic

College of Medicine physician shares warning signs, resources

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston


Experts on Point is a University Communications series focusing on CMU faculty who have special insights into interesting, important and timely topics.

It's one more piece of fallout associated with the pandemic: Drug overdoses are on the rise.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has reported a 42% rise in opioid overdoses from April to May, and 34 other states also report increases, according to the American Medical Association. There are also increasing concerns over the use of other substances, including alcohol and marijuana.

Dr. Juliette Perzhinsky

Dr. Juliette Perzhinsky

Dr. Juliette Perzhinsky, an associate professor of internal medicine in Central Michigan University's College of Medicine, is a board-certified physician on the front lines during the pandemic, primarily treating substance abuse disorders and chronic pain conditions.

We asked her to share her perspective from working with area urgent care and substance abuse service providers.

Q: What local mental health issues have you noticed with COVID-19 on the rise?

A: I have observed that more people — especially those with either pain or prior substance use — are developing worsening anxiety and/or depression because of loss of jobs, concern for loved ones, and fear and uncertainty about their futures. Worsening the crisis is loneliness as a result of the necessary closing of churches, clubs and other in-person support groups.

Q: How is that impacting the use of drugs and alcohol?

A: A number of those who have been struggling with substance abuse are experiencing relapses. Most patients with chronic pain don't have an opioid use disorder. But amid the pandemic, some of those people are showing signs of possible opioid use disorder, like asking for more medications earlier than normal, asking for more powerful medications, or using alcohol or recreational drugs, which risks their safety.

Q: What are some red flags that people should look for?

A: It's very individual. Not every person would recognize they are struggling. Close friends and doctors have to recognize it and openly mention to them what they are seeing and ask if they are willing to get help. 

People need to monitor themselves, too. Some warning signs: 
  • You feel that your use of alcohol or other substances has taken control.
  • You are turning to drugs or alcohol to make you feel better about your circumstances. 
  • You are getting into legal trouble, like being cited for driving under the influence. 
  • Your use is interfering with your work or relationships with family and friends.
Help is available
If you are struggling with issues of alcohol or drug abuse, you can turn to your health care provider and these groups for information and assistance:
On or near campus:

About the expert

Dr. Juliette Perzhinsky splits her clinical time in urgent care and the outpatient setting treating patients with chronic pain, opioid and substance use disorder in mid-Michigan. Her research interests include studying aspects of teaching patient safety and understanding the ways chronic health conditions are linked, especially substance use disorders and mental health co-morbidity.. Her research interests include studying aspects of teaching patient safety and understanding the ways chronic health conditions are linked, especially substance use disorders and mental health co-morbidity.


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