Montgomery, Ala. – The emergence of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has presented many challenges to Alabamians. During these uncertain times, those who misuse substances are particularly vulnerable. The isolation, lack of social interaction, and normal activities have challenged many individuals who are in recovery. In addition to increased mental health needs, the number of overdoses seen in some parts of the state have also increased.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), there was a significant increase in suspected overdose emergency department (ED) visits when comparing the weeks before and after the stay-at-home orders (effective April 4, 2020). The highest number of overdose-related ED visits that occurred weekly and monthly were during the month of May.
There are options for an immediate connection to peer support specialists who can offer resources and important information for someone in need. The Recovery Organization of Support Specialists (ROSS), funded by the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH), offers the state’s only 24/7 Helpline at 1-844-307-1760, manned by certified peer support specialists. Please call this number if you, a family member, or friend should need information related to substance use disorder resources and treatment or just need to talk to someone who understands. ROSS also provides online support groups which can be accessed at www.rosshelpline4u.org. A link to all substance use disorder providers supported by ADMH can be found on the Provider Directory page. Additional group meeting information can be found here.
“COVID-19 has created a situation in which many individuals are more open and comfortable in talking about our mental and emotional needs as human beings, as well as creating the situation of greatly increased stress and isolation. In that vein, we want to ensure that everyone has ready access to correct information about all options for substance use disorder treatment and recovery across the state. We are challenged to reach out more, during this difficult time, to our family, friends and neighbors. It is essential that we share information with anyone that is experiencing the harmful use of a substance and help them access a safe path to recovery,” said Commissioner Lynn Beshear, ADMH.
ADPH, Office of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) state that Alabama first responders have administered an increased number of doses of the opioid reversing medication, naloxone, in
Naloxone is an easy-to-use antidote for an overdose from heroin or other opioid drugs, allowing for the temporary reversal of an opioid overdose. Naloxone administration totals in 2020 were: January, 544; February 513; March, 499; April 655; and May, 705. Initial June data indicates that naloxone administration by EMS remains higher than pre-pandemic.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “No one was fully prepared to deal with the stresses of the pandemic. Everyone’s routines have been altered, and many people are facing significant financial and other pressures like never before. As a result, we are more vulnerable to emotional and physical illness.”
Substance use disorders can progress quickly, especially during COVID-19 social isolation. If you are dealing with strong cravings or relapse, contact your provider immediately and, if possible, include your family or close friend. Ask about medication to treat your symptoms, a plan for refills, and options such as urgent or emergency services, as well as the risks of going to the local ED. Many providers are offering virtual visits via webchat or phone.
Utilize state support such as Wings Across Alabama’s Warm Line at 1-844-999-4647. Also available are Crisis lines such as National Association for Mental Illness’ Crisis Text Line. Just text “NAMI” to 741741. Also, you can call SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, 24/7, which is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests the following:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body:
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- Take proactive steps to safeguard your health.