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Addiction has gotten worse with pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, it seems news coverage and the general focus on accidental drug overdoses and the opioid epidemic have taken a back seat.

Sadly, though, the drug abuse problem has not gone away. In fact, increased isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted even more severely people with substance-use disorders, local mental health officials said recently. In Trumbull County, accidental drug overdose deaths increased in 2020 over data from 2019 and 2018. Thankfully, the number has not risen to the highs of 2017, according to data provided by local health officials.

Trumbull County had 90 confirmed fatal overdose deaths and 17 unofficial drug overdose deaths in 2020. If the unofficial tallies are confirmed, there will have been 107 overdose deaths in the county last year. In 2019, 92 accidental drug overdose deaths occurred, 76 in 2018 and 135 in 2017.

The county posted 879 overdose encounters in hospitals in 2020, according to health data. The majority of the overdose deaths were caused by fentanyl or fentanyl mixed with other drugs.

April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said she sees a “direct correlation between COVID-19 and overdoses, and isolation caused by the pandemic is definitely a factor.”

When someone is in isolation, Caraway said, he or she is more likely to die of an overdose because no one is around to get help or administer naloxone, an overdose reversal drug available to anyone through local health departments.

Challenges for people fighting addiction have increased during the pandemic, particularly when counseling must be handled online rather than in-person.

“It is different, face-to-face,” Caraway said. “We ask people to do 90 meetings in 90 days at the beginning of their path to recovery. But some have problems with minutes on their phones or band width.”

Also, online meetings can lack the necessary intimate interaction.

People attending online meetings also may find it difficult to establish helpful bonds with other people in group meetings.

Still, help is available and those needing it should not be afraid to reach out. They must not try to go this alone. Here are some suggestions for help.

Helpful groups on Facebook include TGCHHO (Trust God, Clean House, Help Others); Friends of Bill and Bob; and Today’s Hope Recovery. Helpful recovery support apps include Celebrate Recovery, Sober Tool and Let GOH.

Additionally, anyone can call the Help Network of Northeast Ohio at 2-1-1 to connect to a myriad services, including mental health, substance-use recovery and suicide prevention. Peer supporters also are available to help those new to recovery navigate the waters.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new hurdles in fighting addiction. That’s why it’s even more important now for each of us to check in regularly on loved ones and neighbors, and, if a need exists, to share these ways to seek help.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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