COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Some recovery advocates believe a recent surge in overdose deaths could be related to the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a 48-hour period Friday through Saturday, the Franklin County Coroner’s Office confirmed at least 12 people died from drug overdoses.
“Human connection is the only real cure for addiction. People in recovery are having an especially hard time because we’re limited in our ability to connect with others right now,” explained Shae Dalrymple of Harm Reduction Ohio.
Suzanne Plymale, a peer recovery supporter at Community Medical Resources agrees the added stress of social distancing and worry about illness may be exacerbating the challenges facing drug users.
“When we’re using substances, we’re already isolating. The stigma keeps us from wanting to reach out,” Plymale said.
Both women battled their own substance abuse issues and know the struggle of recovery firsthand.
They worry more drug users may be using alone, putting themselves at risk for overdose without someone to administer naloxone. “The main thing – don’t use alone,” urged Dalrymple. “Call somebody, find somebody that’s not going to shame you or lecture you.
Call them and use with them on the phone.” Harm Reduction Ohio launched a statewide mail-order program in January, allowing anyone to order opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone on its website.
In March, the group sent out a record-breaking 1,700 naloxone kits. Dalrymple said the service is critical, especially during a crisis when drug users or their loved ones may be concerned to leave their homes or worried about access to the life-saving drug.
Community Medical Services in western Columbus is currently Ohio’s only 24/7 intake treatment facility.
Through the pandemic, the staff there continue to offer 24-hour access, in-person therapy and medically assisted treatment like methadone and suboxone.
“If you’re told you need to wait to this time period, you know, 3 days from now because that’s the only time a treatment is doing assessment and intakes… a lot of times you’re just going to give up and you’re just going to continue to use,” explained Plymale.
The program has also seen an increase in demand for Narcan, a common brand name for Naloxone, during the pandemic and since the surge in overdose deaths. In addition to the in-person treatment options and mail-order services, many counselors are moving meetings to digital platforms and offering telehealth consultation.
Both Plymale and Dalrymple say the most important thing for both current users and those in recovery is to find support. “We can’t go to meetings like we normally do in recovery, but we can go to virtual meetings, you can find help online,” said Dalrymple. “There are lots of people that are going through the same thing. You’re not alone.”
If you or someone you know is at risk for drug overdose, you can order from Harm Reduction Ohio by clicking here.
Outreach teams are also working with Columbus Public Health to pass out Narcan in-person to vulnerable communities Community Medical Services offers treatment services by appointment at 614-488-7117.
You can also drop in 24 hours a day at 1380 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215. You can also find resources on the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County website here.