Here’s Why Hurricanes Are Especially Dangerous for Drug Users

When a hurricane hits, local and federal governments try their best to keep everyone safe. Residents check on neighbors before packing their bags and heading out of the storm’s path. But there is one group of people for whom hurricanes are especially dangerous: Drug users. And with the opioid crisis growing worse every year, the dangers are getting more serious. Here’s why.


Drug users face dangerous situations during hurricanes. | itakdalee/Getty Images

Those who are in recovery have a greater risk of relapse during a hurricane

When a hurricane hits, people either need to hunker down or get out. And for those in recovery who are taking medication, this might mean temporarily losing access to the meds that help them cope with recovery. A study that looked at recovering drug addicts in New York found that during and after Hurricane Sandy, 70% of those who were in medication-assisted treatment were unable to obtain enough of the medication to help with their recovery. When something like this occurs, people are either forced to turn to drugs once again, or must have immense will power to make it through the difficult consequences of not having medicine — which is extremely difficult.

If 911 is hard to reach, drug overdoses can be especially dangerous

In natural disasters, 911 is often oversaturated with calls. People reported waiting hours to reach a 911 dispatcher during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. Dispatchers took 75,000 calls in less than three days during that hurricane.

If someone overdoses, calling 911 might mean waiting a few hours for help to arrive. This can make death imminent. Nowadays, Narcan is available in drug stores across the country, which can help reduce overdose-related deaths — especially during a time when police may not be able to get there right away. However, those who overdose still need to be taken to the hospital, and that can be a difficult task in a hurricane due to flooding and downed trees or wires.

The spread of disease is more rampant, since people resort to sharing needles

When a hurricane hits, drug users don’t have access to things that help them get their fix. If a drug user evacuates, he or she may end up in a place where they don’t have easy access to needles and may resort to sharing. If they can’t leave the area to get drug supplies, they might find that using someone else’s needle is the only way to get high. Studies have shown that diseases are commonly spread among drug users during and after hurricanes when access to extra supplies is low.

Hurricanes are an overlooked reason to get the opioid crisis under control

When people in recovery don’t have access to their medications, they risk relapse. When drug users are forced to decide between sharing a needle or not getting high, they’ll often pick the former, which spreads disease. Hurricanes are a dangerous situation for those addicted and can result in very terrible circumstances.

The opioid crisis is a national emergency, but hurricanes are just another example of why it needs to get better. People compromise their safety and choose to stay in the hurricane’s path because they know where to get drugs (rather than risk going to a new neighborhood and not knowing where to find their drug of choice). It’s a serious situation that, in the midst of prepping and planning, often gets overlooked.

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