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Pandemic Highlights Importance Of Addiction Recovery Community, Programs

emergency-first-aid-for-opioid-overdose.jpg

March 2020 was an uncertain time for everyone. But it was especially stressful for Christy Crowder.

“The number one thing that we tell people when they get in recovery [is] find a support system, find a recovery community,” said Crowder, director of the Wabash Valley Recovery Center in Terre Haute. “And all that went away really quickly when the pandemic hit.”

Crowder oversees support services for hundreds of people around the region dealing with substance abuse. And as someone in long-term recovery herself, she saw the pandemic and initial lockdowns create new stress and disruptions for people in recovery and those who assist them.

“We had all those thoughts, you know, ‘What are people going to do?’ The meetings are going to get shut down, therapy, counseling.”

Substance abuse skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic when the state locked down. With people confined to their homes, losing jobs and isolated from family, friends or support groups, alcohol sales spiked. Many counties experienced record overdose numbers.

READ MORE: “An Unintended Consequence”: Overdoses Spike In Clark Co. After Pandemic, Lockdowns

Before the pandemic, Indiana was trending in the right direction. The state’s work strengthening its infrastructure for treating substance use disorder had led to a decrease in opioid prescriptions and an increase in available treatment. Overdose deaths were decreasing between two and three times the national average.

Down in Clark County, which was rocked by the opioid epidemic earlier in the decade, much of the progress that had been made was upended.

“There's a loss of structure, and that was absolutely devastating to the recovery community down here,” said Dr. Eric Yazel, the county’s Health Officer. “And we saw a major upswing in overdoses and decompensated mental illness and things like that.”

Indiana 211 received about 1,500 calls on a busy day pre-pandemic. That number peaked at 25,000 calls during the shutdown, prompting the state to create the Be Well Indiana hotline.

Statewide, overdose events increased by 50 percent in 2020, and administration of Naloxone, the drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose, increased by nearly 70 percent. To meet demand, the state partnered with Overdose Lifeline to make available 25,000 extra doses of Naloxone.

“When emergency departments began to change the way that they did business due to COVID, we had to pull back on a lot of those supportive structures that were embedded in intervention points throughout the throughout the system,” Doug Huntsinger, Indiana’s Executive Director for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement, said.

The state expanded its recovery network to provide for more peer-to-peer recovery services – Wabash Valley Recovery Center became a hub for the state’s southwest region. And as Indiana reopened, overdose numbers began to level out. But they’re still above past numbers.

“COVID has really disrupted the model that we have built. But as we begin to see the COVID restrictions lessen, we begin to see our model come back online, and see the positive results again,” Huntsinger said.

He says while the state reopens and people get vaccinated, he’s confident those numbers will dip back to normal, but the pandemic has shown just how fragile and important recovery services are to fighting substance abuse.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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