It is a known fact that the path to addiction is littered with loneliness and disconnection from community. While the country and world are focused on the coronavirus pandemic, lurking and ravaging below is an epidemic that will most likely be raging once communities begin to open back up. People with substance use disorder already face many obstacles to treatment. However, public health precautions such as social distancing and self-quarantine, while necessary measures, by all accounts, to contain the spread of COVID-19, are more than inconveniences to a person struggling with addiction. While isolation is difficult for all of us, since we are wired for human connection, it is a huge risk factor for relapse, especially for those early in the recovery process. Many treatment programs were unprepared for the pandemic and lacked the personal protective equipment needed to safely continue services. Many programs were able to make adjustments and kept providing care, but had to dial back the number of admissions in many cases. In a field where services are already inadequate, this made those seeking initial treatment or those who may have relapsed struggling to get into programs.
The fear and uncertainty of economic distress, along with mandated isolation, can aggravate anxiety and depression causing many people to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to ease the stress. Because of this tragic convergence of viral outbreak and necessary countermeasures, we are likely to emerge from the pandemic with more new people suffering from addiction and more people who have fallen out of treatment and relapsed. As of the end of April of this year, we have lost 86 of our neighbors to suspected drug overdoses. * While we must mitigate the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, let’s not lose sight of an epidemic that has been ravaging our country, state and local community for over 20 years. As so many have exhibited care and concern for the health of the most vulnerable through this pandemic, may we not forget that we have had and will continue to have a vulnerable population of persons with substance use disorders whose lives are just as important. They are counting on us to demonstrate a sense of urgency in making sure we have adequate resources in place to prevent, treat and provide critical access to recovery support services. Let’s roll up our sleeves and continue to work together for the health and safety of ALL our neighbors. It’s time to peel back and challenge our preconceived notions of “those people”, reduce the stigma, and help individuals push through guilt and shame and uncover a life of unlimited potential free from the grips of addiction.
*According to the Knox County Medical Examiner’s Office, complete autopsy results can take up to 90 days so numbers may change slightly.
How has Metro Drug Coalition responded during this time?
- Used various social media outlets to promote virtual NA/AA and other support group meetings
- Several of MDC’s staff in long-term recovery have provided their numbers for anyone to call who needs support
- Project Lifeline has been continuing to assist individuals secure treatment and sober housing placements
- Provided naloxone to outreach programs that continued during the pandemic
- Provided individual trainings practicing social distancing for those requesting naloxone
- Provided zoom recovery meetings and mindfulness meditation sessions
- Provided mental health zoom meetings
- Continued to engage with our Youth Metro Drug Coalition members, including holding virtual meetings and continuing community service projects they could do from home
- Identifying ways to engage youth and provide primary prevention while students are home
- Continued our anti-drug coalition by offering virtual meetings and trainings
- Offered support to the Knox County Health Department with their COVID-19 communications
- Offered our 530 West Fifth Avenue building (future home of The Gateway, recovery community center) to the homeless individuals who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and were awaiting their test results or were positive and needed a safe space in which to quarantine.