Addressing Addiction and Addicts During Disasters

Preparedness Tip: Be sure to always have 14 days of heroin as part of your disaster kit.

by Eric Holdeman / April 12, 2019

I tell people that I'm a pessimistic optimist. I know things will be bad, but if we plan, train, exercise and have the right relationships before a disaster, we'll muddle through. But, in my old age, I've become much more of a pessimist. More than once in the last few months I've said I'm glad to be as old as I am. Given the option of being 24 again at this point in time, I would respectfully decline. 

Nathaniel Matthews-Trigg who has an MPH and I have emailed back and forth several times since I posted this blog post earlier in the week, Addicts and Disasters. Nathaniel is the guy with a Master's in Public Health, and all I have is experience and common sense to fall back on. Both of which can cause a person like me to make false assumptions — I'll acknowledge that.

He shared this document, Disaster Planning Handbook for Behavioral Health Treatment Programs. It is likely a good reference for you ANYWHERE here in America today. 

The optimist says there is an opportunity in a disaster for people to seek treatment to get off drugs. The pessimist (that is me) believes that before that happens, when clinics are closed, treatment drugs are not available, nor are staff able to get to work — there will be first anarchy among the population of addicts who cannot get their fix. 

Here is only one anecdotal story. Bartell Drugs, which is a locally owned pharmacy chain here in the Seattle area recently announced that they will not open any more new stores in downtown Seattle due the level of violence and other crimes being committed against their employees and the store in general.

The above is happening now, on blue-sky days, no stress on the system that provides services to people with mental health and/or addiction issues. 

Given the above, I'll have to respectfully disagree with Nathaniel. It is possible that there will be a better day coming, but it will not arrive at the time of a catastrophic disaster and in the immediate aftermath of such an event.