Preparing for Hurricane Irma, a needle exchange program in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood handed out extra syringes to heroin users. Other addicts picked up advance medication from methadone clinics. Disasters cause stress, and stress can cause relapse for people struggling with addiction, whether their problem is alcohol, tobacco, pills or heroin, the Associated Press reports. Authorities planning for the devastating effects of hurricanes factor in the heightened danger of relapse and overdose. The problems of alcoholism and addiction become more public in a storm, said Andrew Golub of the National Development and Research Institutes in New York, who studied illicit drug users in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “During a storm, it becomes harder to hide and cope with one’s addiction in private,” he said.
Scientists learned from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Drug users took chances during storms, avoiding evacuation to stay near their dealers or sharing needles with strangers, putting themselves in danger of HIV and hepatitis. Those in treatment missed doses of medications and went back to street drugs to avoid withdrawal sickness. “Disasters like this interrupt treatment,” said Enrique Pouget, whose team interviewed 300 injection drug users in New York after Sandy in 2012. Methadone programs, highly regulated by the government, are required to have disaster emergency plans. Florida, in cooperation with federal authorities, granted methadone clinics discretion to provide up to five days of medication ahead of Hurricane Irma.