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Substance-related Considerations During COVID-19

Get Updates for COVID-19 from DHSS

DHSS is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. Learn more about 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

For individuals in distress:

If you, a friend, an employee or someone you know is showing signs of mental health related distress:

  • Call 911 if it is a life-threatening emergency
  • Call 211 for information and referral services including a range of nonprofit, government and tribal agencies.
  • Call Alaska’s crisis hotline, Careline, at 1-877-266-4357
  • Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)
  • SAMHSA has a national helpline to assist with finding behavioral health support or substance use management, 800-662-HELP (4357), TTY: 800-487-4889. These calls are manned 24/7 and are routed to the DHSS Division of Behavioral Health during DHSS operational hours.

Individual and Community Considerations

Graphic showing compassion for others.

Compassionate communication is key right now.

  • Be vigilant about making sure you are expressing compassion and showing respect.
  • People will respond to stress differently depending on their background, their risks related to COVID-19 and the risk of people in their household. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published PDFa guidance document about physical distancing and isolation, and common stress responses.
  • Use calls and video chats to stay connected with family, friends and others in the community, especially elders and those with pre-existing mental health concerns.
  • Call your doctor or local healthcare provider if stress and anxiety are interfering with your daily activities for several days in a row.

Virtual recovery supports are available.

Graphic showing virtual recovery supports.

Connectedness is important for recovery maintenance. At a time when self-quarantine and physical distancing are happening to control the spread of Coronavirus, recovery supports are still available virtually. Learn about virtual resources available during this time with these resources:

People who use substances, or who have substance-related illnesses, might be more greatly impacted by the virus.

COVID-19 is a newly recognized virus, so there’s a lot health professionals don’t know yet. This means that how it impacts some groups, like people with respiratory illnesses, or women who are pregnant, is still being researched.

Here are some points identified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on how people with a history of substance use may be impacted:

  • We know that COVID-19 affects the lungs. For this reason, it may be a greater threat to people who smoke tobacco and marijuana, or who vape. For people who are looking to quit tobacco, the Alaska Tobacco Quit Line offers free help.Graphic with question, do you have a health condition caused by substance abuse?
  • Opioid overdoses happen when a person’s breathing slows or stops because they’ve taken too much of an opioid. Because COVID-19 can make it difficult to breathe, people on high dose of opioids may face greater risks. Even without the concern of COVID-19 in the equation, people on high doses are recommended to have access to naloxone, a medication used in opioid overdoses; healthcare providers or Alaska’s Project HOPE Program ( can help people get naloxone. Patients can ask their providers about non-opioid pain management options.
  • COVID-19 also affects the cardiovascular system, and may present increased risks for people with cardiovascular system damage. Substances that are damaging to the heart, such as methamphetamines, may increase risks for individuals.
  • If you’re concerned about your individual risks for COVID-19, including risks related to medications or substances you’re using, call your healthcare provider to determine what changes can be made.

There are special considerations for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD):

  • Caregivers for people with FASD can find tailored information for people with FASD on this Canada FASD Research Network page. Notably, people with FASD might experience heightened stress and emotion. They may also have reduced sensitivity to pain and discomfort, so it is recommended that caregivers stay alert of signs of illness such as breathing difficulty. A video by Oregon Behavior Consultation provides some additional tips for caregivers during this time.

For more information about substance and COVID-19 related health impacts, visit:

For those needing support for substance misuse and addiction.

People experiencing economic uncertainty, disruptions in routine and lack of physical connection can be especially susceptible to substance misuse. This may include people who haven’t previously experienced challenges with substance and alcohol.

  • SAMHSA has a national helpline to assist with finding behavioral health support or substance use management, 800-662-HELP (4357), TTY: 800-487-4889. These calls are manned 24/7 and are routed to the DHSS Division of Behavioral Health during DHSS operational hours.
  • will support you in identifying Alaska agencies providing substance use disorder treatment.
  • Help is available 24/7 through Alaska's crisis hotline, Careline. Call 1-877-266-HELP (4357).
  • Recover Alaska has an online screening tool for alcohol and mental health to help people confidentially reflect upon their needs.

Employers concerned about workforce wellness may want to consider these strategies.

Graphic showing concern about employee mental health.

Social connection helps individuals maintain recovery, and helps to prevent substance misuse. Consider what you are positioned to do as an employer.

  • If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to provide a connection to mental health services, now is a good time to remind employees of that service.
  • If your team is teleworking, consider a set time for free-flowing conversation and colleague connection through the technology platforms you have in place.
  • You may decide to provide a moment in meetings or calls with your employee to “check in” and share a personal note (if they wish) about how they’re doing.
  • Provide regular, accurate and unified communication to employees to reduce stress and uncertainty.
  • Ensure drug and alcohol policies clearly and compassionately set expectations for employees working from home, as well as procedures for seeking help.
  • For staff needing unemployment, an FAQ for COVID-19 unemployment benefit scenario resource is available at this Department of Labor page.
  • More ideas and resources area available at, including a toolkit for employers to evaluate ways they may help protect their workforce from substance misuse and addiction.

Supports for those facing economic uncertainty is a great resource. Call 211 for any housing, food assistance, employment, transportation assistance and income support.

For individuals facing economic uncertainty:

Resources for treatment providers:

Please find information and resources below related to the current Declaration of Emergency, in the state of Alaska, as it pertains to the Division of Behavioral Health.