Possible Substance Use Disorders Among First Responders During the COVID-19 Era: A Quasi-Experimental Study of Personal and Residential Vulnerability
During the COVID-19 pandemic possible substance use disorders (SUD) were exacerbated from increased stress and isolation. Experiences of symptomology differ widely by occupations.
The objectives were to determine if there is a temporal relationship between COVID-19 vulnerability and possible SUDs among first responders, and to examine the association with neighborhood vulnerability.
The researchers conducted an analysis with two distinct cohorts dependent on time of entry:
- First responders that began counseling prior to COVID-19.
- First responders that began counseling after the start of COVID-19.
Data were collected at intake from first responders seeking mental health services between 2017 and 2021 at an organization in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. The study sample included 195 mostly male (75%) first responders (51% law enforcement officers; 49% emergency medical technicians/firefighters). Bivariate models tested unadjusted relationships between covariates and possible SUD. Adjusted models consisted of a two-level multivariable logistic regression models.
Nearly 40% (n = 77) screened positive for a possible SUD.
Those beginning counseling after COVID-19 did not have higher odds of SUDs. For every unit increase in neighborhood Severe COVID-19 Health Risk Index at a first responder’s residential location there was an increase in the odds of a possible SUD (AOR = 3.14, 95% CI: 1.47, 6.75).
This study highlights the degree to which personal and residential vulnerability to COVID-19 impacted first responders. The increased occupational stress of this population, and an established pattern of maladaptive coping, elucidates the need for preventative and clinical approaches to strengthen the resilience of this population.