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Opioid crisis persists during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 2:09 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 15:32:10-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The intersection of a global pandemic and a national opioid crisis is a place Alvin Dutruch knows well.

“This kind of came out of nowhere,” he said.

Dutruch is a recovering opioid addict who spent time in prison in Louisiana, but now he works to coach others dealing with addiction.

“I have 33 months of clean time, which is the longest period clean time that I've had in the last 15 years,” he said.

However, he added that it’s the past six months that have been some of the toughest of his recovery.

“The only thing I'm doing is I'm just secluded here and I'm in my head,” Dutruch said. “And that is the worst thing that a recovering addict can do is get in their own head because in all this self-doubt starts coming around.”

It’s a seclusion stemming from something we saw first-hand this summer in Vermont: the pandemic forcing recovery treatment centers to close their doors.

“The pandemic hit and, of course, everything just went, everyone just retreated to their homes,” Gary de Carolis, director of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, Vermont, told us in July.

Experts say that isolation is likely leading to more opioid overdoses.

The full picture of 2020 is still unfolding, but according to the Association of American Medical Colleges and national lab service Millennium Health, which recently analyzed a half-million drug tests taken during the pandemic from March to May, there was an increase of 32% in non-prescribed fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, found in those tests.

Overall, drug overdoses increased 18% during that same time.

The numbers don’t surprise Dutruch.

“You didn't take a self-help class or life-skills class to ever get you prepared for a pandemic that is going to cut off all of your recovery resources to you,” he said.

Though he admits it’s not perfect, Dutruch said telehealth and virtual meetings can help, anything to give someone in recovery a connection to someone else. He also credits BioCorRX Recovery Program, which in addition to medication, offers peer support, which he says has helped him stay clean.

“You are not alone,” he said. “When I had that ability to somebody say, ‘Alvin, we are here, we're going do this together,’ that's what helped me.”

It’s a comfort that can be a potential lifeline for those struggling with addiction in isolation.