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Pandemic changing how health officials help people struggling with addiction

The prolonged isolation, job loss and stress of the pandemic led to increased anxiety and depression among this population.

Addiction is a disease and disease requires treatment. So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, public health officials feared it could have a negative impact on people with a substance abuse disorder.

“When we started staying at home and closing a lot of things in March, we were very concerned then about the social isolation and what that would do to people with mental health issues as well as with the disease of addiction,” says Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts. 

The prolonged isolation, job loss and stress of the pandemic led to increased anxiety and depression among this population.  

These factors combined proved dangerous to those living with the disease of addiction.

Some forms of treatment were still available during the stay at home order but in-person treatment was no longer an option.

“They continued to see people, they just saw them differently,” says Erika Clark Jones with ADAMH, the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. 

The pandemic forced a shift in how treatment was offered. Many agencies began providing more tele-health services by phone and online. 

“Our crises helpline which is operated by Netcare expanded their hours and their services,” says Jones.

Providers had to think outside the box to find new ways to reach people who needed help.

“We had some of our staff at Columbus Public Health who were willing to go out on the streets and start doing education,” Dr. Roberts said. “We also started allowing for people to get mail-in Narcan. We know Narcan is effective, but it’s only effective if you have someone there to give it to you if you overdose.”

Another factor in the rise of overdose deaths is the effect the pandemic has had on recreational drug users. 

“They’re using more because of the anxiety, depression, the job loss, etc. and then maybe they thought they’re using cocaine which was their drug of choice before to have fun with and there’s fentanyl in the cocaine and they die,” said Dr. Anahi Ortiz, Franklin County Coroner.

But not all overdoses have to end in death. Dr. Ortiz says Narcan and Fentanyl testing strips are key during this pandemic to decrease the numbers that are dying until they are ready for treatment.

“I think it’s extremely important for people to know where to go for treatment when they’re ready,” Dr. Ortiz said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the disease of addiction, go to dontliveindenial.org for information and resources on where to get help.

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