The opioid epidemic meets the COVID-19 pandemic

Recovering opioid addicts are a vulnerable community during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Now more than ever, they are susceptible to relapse because effective recovery often requires regular group meetings and one-on-one therapeutic check-ins.

The Illinois "stay-at-home" order will protect us and save lives. Yet in these uncertain circumstances, we are seeing firsthand the increased risk to recovering addicts.

We are recovering addicts ourselves who now help others stay off drugs and achieve sobriety. We are concerned that the isolating nature of the COVID-19 Pandemic and social distancing might cause recovering addicts to seek out drugs as a means of coping.

Our organization, the 516 Light Foundation, has seen firsthand that the important components necessary for sober support are not available amid COVID-19.

It's been difficult for people looking to recover from substance use to get into detox/treatment facilities, move into sober homes and find support meetings. Virtual sessions have sprung up but that desired personal connection is not there.

Unfortunately, we have already seen people who are struggling with addiction go back to using drugs or overdose.

One mechanism that can help is increased access to the opioid antagonist, naloxone. Naloxone has reversed countless overdoses and can be the difference between life and death when every second counts.

Well before the pandemic was even on our radar, nine states had already enacted laws mandating that when doctors write a prescription for a risky amount of opioids, they must offer naloxone to the patients and educate them on the risks.

It's vital during this current period of uncertainty that family members and loved ones in proximity to those at higher risk for overdose always have naloxone nearby. Some states have implemented new measures on this front pertaining specifically to COVID-19 circumstances.

For example, the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction is supplying opioid treatment programs with take-home naloxone kits. And the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services approved a request from Families Against Narcotics to mail free naloxone doses to those who participate in virtual naloxone training sessions.

While there is no perfect solution, these types of initiatives can truly make a positive difference.

We all recognize the seriousness of COVID-19 and want to ensure that those battling addiction have the support system and resources necessary to get through the pandemic.

• Brad and Jessica Gerke are the founders of 516 Light Foundation, a 501c3 aimed at helping people in recovery and bringing hope to the community. Brad, an appointed member of the DuPage County H.O.P.E. Taskforce, is director of operations at Banyan Treatment Center, where Jessica is also an intake supervisor.

Jessica Gerke
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