What happens to drug addicts during a super storm? When we saw this article last week in Rolling Stone magazine, it stopped us in our tracks. It really got us thinking about the mind of an addict. It was about what happens to people with substance use disorders are caught in the midst of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey in Texas and now Hurricane Irma that is busted through Florida this past weekend. What do they do? One might think, well don’t they do what everyone else is doing – run? According to the article, a lot of people with addiction – particularly IV drug users – stay behind because of the uncertainty of where they’ll get their next fix. Clearly evacuating would be the logical thing to do. However, those of us who understand addiction know very well that it’s not a disease of logic.
Understanding the Disease of Addiction
Eliza Player, a recovering heroin addict, shared a detailed account of her experience staying put in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. If you haven’t read it yet, we highly recommend it. Her story gives you a look inside what it is really like for an addicted person to live through a super storm.
“I stayed behind because I didn’t have enough heroin to last more than a day. I never even thought about leaving my beloved home city. Why would I venture to some unknown place where I had no idea where to score?”
– Eliza Player, Recovering heroin addict and survivor of Hurricane Katrina
There were studies done on IV drug users during Hurricane Sandy that devastated the east coast in 2012 as well as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One study in particular found that many people who were addicted to drugs put their addiction ahead of personal safety and evacuation. Instead they hung back to ensure they could stock up on drugs, to loot pharmacies, stores, and homes of drug dealers.
Natural Disasters Pose Greater Threat to Drug Addicts
Anytime someone uses drugs, they are putting their life at risk. When you’re addicted to, say, heroin, death could literally be around any corner. It’s dramatic but it’s true. However, when these people choose to stay behind during a hurricane or other massive natural disasters, the stakes are much higher. Not only are they at risk for the health concerns normally related to a natural disaster, they are putting themselves even further at risk with their drug use.
People who use IV drugs are more likely to share needles due to lack of availability putting them at higher risk for transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections. Venturing out into dirty water and lack of clean running water only adds to the danger.
“Disruption of illicit drug markets can add to the difficulties in evacuating and obtaining food and shelter for PWID, and can lead to increased risks of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections.” 1
One of the tell-tale signs that someone is addicted is that they make their whole life about drug seeking and using without regard to the consequences. When someone is addicted it’s not about kicking back and having a good time. This isn’t leisurely experimentation. It’s survival. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and now Irma, are demonstrating the harsh reality of this fact.