Over the course of the pandemic, island residents have received local and federal cash infusions to help Guam get through the struggles brought on by the public health emergency. And while the money has done a lot of good for the community, there have also been negative impacts related to the changing landscape of drug use during that time.

Measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic have included closing international borders, limiting social gatherings and reducing economic activity across the island. But as Guam battled COVID-19, it was unclear how the measures would affect drug supply and demand.

On the treatment side, recovery centers have reported an increase in addicts exhibiting symptoms of heavy methamphetamine use.

"We have been getting a lot of individuals who are coming in with psychosis due to methamphetamine. So I think that individuals are staying home – if it's boredom, depression or anxiety – they are using meth and it's not great," said Athena Duenas.

Duenas is a supervisor with the New Beginnings drug and alcohol treatment program. She said those who have been using the drug are coming in to seek help because they are starting to show symptoms of meth psychosis.

"They start hearing voices, having some visual hallucinations (and they are) severely depressed and suicidal," said Duenas.

In the last year, Olivia Borja, clinical supervisor and counselor at Oasis Empowerment Center, said meth addicts have been coming into the center strung out.

"I would say there are some cases were they come in and it's very obvious that they are high or intoxicated – they're not coherent, they may be talking to themselves, or they may be seeing things or paranoid. I would say that there is an increase in that as well," she said.

'Another reason for them to use'

During the course of the pandemic, federal assistance was provided through three payments totaling $3,200. Although the assistance helped many residents with bills and necessities, the cash infusion may have also helped some feed their addiction.

"It's another reason for them to use," said Duenas.

Both said the increase in meth use could be related to the pandemic.

"The amount of restrictions up and down, the changes. We look at the stimulus coming out, there's a large amount of money ... that people are receiving, and people in very desperate situations can use that in very different ways," Borja said.

She recalled the impact the pandemic had when recovery centers were forced shut down.

"I definitely know that when they shut down treatment centers and we couldn't give services and we all had to go online, the Salvation Army, New Beginnings and ourselves, that was a huge impact on the people in recovery. It was a huge ripple effect. There was a lot of relapses – it was very difficult for those periods and months where we couldn't do in-person classes."

Borja believes the federal pandemic assistance has been a factor in triggering relapse.

"I do think that's has been a factor and a huge trigger for some," Borja said. "Some of them have been able to share that getting that large amount of money was a trigger and they didn't make wise decisions with that. In retrospect, individuals have been honest in saying they need boundaries and accountability."

The current street value of a gram of meth is about $150 on Guam. Two decades ago, it was about $1,000.

Although it is not known how much meth is on island, Guam Police Department Chief Stephen Ignacio has said that such a drop in price means the drug is more readily available.


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