Opioid treatment in COVID long-haulers sparks concern

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DENVER (KDVR) — Health experts have expressed concerns over using opioids to treat symptoms in COVID-19 long-haulers.

A recent study from Washington University in St. Louis and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found a higher rate of long COVID patients received opioid treatment.

“Opioids are easy to prescribe — and yes, they are effective. They will alleviate your pain. The problem is they are not the recommended first line treatment for pain,” said Dr. Bill Cornwell, a cardiologist with University of Colorado Hospital.

Cornwell helps treat patients at UCHealth’s post-COVID clinic. He says identifying effective treatment for long-haulers is a moving target.

“It’s not entirely clear what the problem is in the first place but one of the things that we’re beginning to appreciate and understand is that at some point, as a result of this infection, the heart and lungs and really the body in general become deconditioned,” said Cornwell.

He says they try to avoid using opioids unless there’s no other alternative treatment.

“There is great concern. They are addictive, there are side effects and in some cases they can be detrimental,” said Cornwell.

“The idea of having an opioid in the mix of things — I think there’s an absolute danger behind that,” said Dayne Pillow.

Pillow, a Denver-based photographer and COVID long-hauler, has been fighting persisting neurological symptoms like vertigo for months.

“I was tripping, bumping into things. When I would move my head from side to side it was like a couple second delay,” said Pillow.

He found some relief through physical therapy, but says this condition can be very isolating.

“I think the biggest concern that people have that have long COVID is there’s no doctor on the planet who can tell you how long it will last and if the severity will go up or down,” said Pillow.

Pillow is now photographing fellow long-haulers; creating a series of portraits that highlight the mental and physical pain of the condition.

“I think the thing that people can’t really relate to if you haven’t had it is how lonely it feels and how disheartening having COVID feels. That aspect can be very traumatic and impactful,” said Pillow.

He hopes to continue his series of portraits. Anyone interested in being featured can contact Pillow here

Cornwell says they have found exercise to be an effective treatment for COVID long-haulers. He says bringing gradual exercise into a patient’s routine can make a big difference.

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