During the depths of the pandemic’s social isolation, some are struggling more than others.
May was Ohio’s deadliest overdose month in more than a decade, and the Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office estimates that at least 600 county residents will have died of drug-related causes by year’s end. As the pandemic continues, addiction specialists are focused on the fatal effects social isolation can have on people with substance abuse issues and those in recovery.
“The disease of addiction itself is already incredibly isolating, driving away people who care about the person with addiction,” says Dr. Theodore V. Parran, co-medical director of Rosary Hall, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center’s drug and alcohol addiction rehab center. “If you’re the loved one of a person who has a history of addiction, these are times to double down on meaningful interpersonal interactions.”
Rosary Hall’s Dr. Christopher Adelman says the people closest to those struggling with addiction issues can most effectively encourage them to access treatment. “A significant other or roommate are the first people to figure out that something’s wrong,” he says.
Resources abound for helping loved ones identify the right course of treatment: Rosary Hall, for example, offers a centralized intake hotline to help determine patients’ needs, and most local emergency rooms have peer recovery supporters on hand.
“The biggest tragedy is that people [with addiction] don’t reach out for help, so the people that can actually influence them to get into treatment are the ones who need to reach out,” Adelman says.
Addiction experts agree that the most potent tool for addiction intervention and recovery is group therapy with other people who have a similar disease.
But what happens during a pandemic? “Group therapy is easily accessible by Zoom, but it is weakened in terms of therapeutic effects,” Parran says. “It’s a watered-down experience from a feelings and support standpoint.”
That’s why Rosary Hall’s detox center remained open during the state-mandated lockdown, and staff have sought to safely reintegrate other addiction treatment services, including in-person therapy and its intensive outpatient program. Individuals with substance abuse problems have a 700% increased annual mortality rate, making the disease of addiction an especially fatal one — and making it worth the risk of gathering in person.
“COVID-19 is extremely dangerous,” Parran says, “but the risk [of death from addiction] is so high that from an ethical standpoint, we have to continue to make the best treatment