When Jenny, age 34, learned that her Boston-area AA meetings had been moved online in response to the Massachusetts COVID-19 situation, she was alarmed, “The whole point is to be around people and feel connected. I’ll be totally missing that.”

Jenny’s not alone. While individuals in recovery today have options to attend meetings and receive services remotely, this new paradigm represents a major change in many individuals’ quest for a lasting sobriety. “I felt safe and secure at meetings. I need them. Of course, I know that I’m safer at home, joining my group online, but I am feeling more and more isolated every day. I’m alone and sometimes it’s overwhelming,” she said.

Dealing with life and a new national normal for those in recovery.

As days become weeks (and now months) and “social distancing” is now a permanent addition to our vocabulary. Individuals with SUD, Eating Disorders and Behavioral Health issues are reaching out in record numbers, whether in hopes of taking the first step or trying to keep going forward when events of the world disrupt the arc and structure of recovery. “It’s the danger zone for active drug users: being alone when taking often higher levels of opioids than normal, isolation increases the risk of a fatal overdose,” said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence in an interview with NPR. “Isolation, while important in mitigating the spread of the virus, is nonetheless the exact opposite of what we know to be the appropriate environment for effective treatment. We’ve got some difficult times ahead.”1

The concern is also for individuals relapsing during isolation, who then face a second set of serious dangers. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) says, “You have a drug that is actively decreasing your ability to fight a viral infection while decreasing your respiration. And if you contract an aggressive pulmonary infection like COVID-19, your likelihood of surviving is significantly lower.”2

And there’s more bad news. Along with the dangers of relapse, there’s the shadow of despair and stark evidence of that the inequalities that exists in larger cities are exacerbating the crisis — specifically Detroit, where the COVID-19 pandemic is escalating in intensity and the city’s poverty and related conditions may also be changing its shape. The percentages of deaths among lower-income, minority men and woman are astronomical.

Constant change. Challenges for MAT.

Treatment facilities, patients, families — all experiencing a rush of changes. The opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic “have unfortunately crossed paths in a very lethal way,” Allegra Schorr, president of the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Providers and Advocates of New York State (COMPA) says. Schorr represents over 45 organizations serving 41,000 recovery patients in New York, the state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. She wants to strike the right balance between reducing both the spread of the disease and risk of overdose for patients using Medical Assisted Treatment.

“We’re like a front line. We have to be able to keep our patients out of the hospital. We have to get that balance right. If they overdose, then they’re going to be in the hospital taking up those resources,” Schorr told CBS News. “They could be in the emergency rooms. We have the potential of crashing the hospital system. We have to make sure that does not happen.”3

“Every day there is a change. I think that is the biggest challenge – the unknown,” Linda Hurley, president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Health, told CBS News. Hurley runs the largest non-profit provider of outpatient services for opioid use disorder. Lately, she’s seen her patient base grow amid the anxiety and stress of this pandemic. “On a daily basis, we’re seeing more people presenting for admission than what our average was before this crisis.”4

END OF PART ONE of the TWO-PART COMMENTARY

References for information cited in this article:

1 Mark Parrino “Opioid Addiction Is ‘A Disease Of Isolation,’ So Pandemic Puts Recovery At Risk
March 27, 2020, live interview excerpt: National Public Radio for WBUR and Kaiser Health reported by Martha Bebinger

2 Nora Volkow “COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders
April 6, 2020 Article, National Institute on Drug Abuse;

3 Allegra Schorr “How the coronavirus is hurting drug and alcohol recovery
April 3, 2020, live interview excerpt: CBS Radio News, reported by Nicole Sganga.

4 Linda Hurley “How the coronavirus is hurting drug and alcohol recovery?
April 3, 2020, live interview excerpt: CBS Radio News, reported by Nicole Sganga.

General Resources for Treatment Professional

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention General Info
Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Healthcare Settings.
Comprehensive data on effective infection control

Center for Disease Control and Prevention Updates
Rolling Updates on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

World Health Organization (WHO)
Rolling Updates on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Latest updates from The NIH

Resources for Patients In Recovery

“Coping With Coronavirus: Managing Stress, Fear, and Anxiety”
Understanding feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are completely normal during times like this. by Joshua Gordon

SAMHSA Resource Guide
Virtual Recovery Resources
A large library of resources that can be used to virtually support recovery from mental/substance use disorders.

Shatterproof
Virtual Recovery Resources
 How I’m Coping with COVID-19 and Social Isolation as a Person in Long-Term Recovery” provides helpful suggestions.

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
Virtual Recovery Resources
Contains online support meetings, blogs, mobile apps, social mediagroups, and movie suggestions, including the online support community, 

Also check out:

Tips for Staying Connected and Safeguarding Your Addiction Recovery

Reddit Recovery
Offers an online support and recovery community.

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