This country now faces unparalleled isolation like we have never known as a result of Covid-19.
Americans have been driven into their homes with no time frame on when their lives will return to normal. This pandemic has hit one demographic especially hard: those suffering from substance use disorder. One of the most crucial components for those attempting to recover from substance use disorder is human connection and support, which due to Covid-19 has been virtually eradicated. Those in recovery are dependent upon meetings, in person 12 Step programs and social connections to help them gain the meaningful assistance necessary to recover from this illness. Those suffering often cannot see what a peer, recovery coach, or sponsor, may be able to point out quite easily in helping with the prevention of substance use. Without this vital human interaction, many will likely throw social distancing and other precautionary measures to the wind in order to obtain their drug of choice, thus putting all of us at risk.
Alcohol sales are up more than 200% in Palm Beach County.
Statistics across the country show a minimum of at least 50% increase in alcohol sales across all 50 states. We saw a similar situation during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Desperate people turn to substances to alleviate the depression, loss, and isolation they face during a disaster. The reality is that we really don’t know how bad or how soon this problem is going to be realized – during Katrina it took approximately six to eight weeks to start seeing the real impact of substance use disorder on this specific community. Some models say that we have not yet seen the peek of devastation that is a result of the isolation and lack of resources as we remain early into the crisis. Unlike Katrina however, this affects not just one city, but the entire country and ultimately the world. The United States already has a shortage of mental health and substance use disorder services, and this pandemic is sure to exacerbate that at a time when we need to utilize all the resources we can in order to stop the spread of this scourge.
In addition to the pressing issue of isolation, it is crucial to acknowledge how the issuance of stimulus checks to those with substance use disorder and they spend these funds. People with substance use disorder who do not possess the tools of recovery, and are in the throes of a relapse, are likely to make catastrophic and even lethal errors when spending this money.
However, this same money which may wreak havoc on those who are actively using, is also critical in order to avoid the current housing crisis thrust upon the recovery community.
Many individuals new to recovery make the wise decision to stay in what are called sober homes. Most work in industries that have been deemed nonessential businesses and are now unemployed and are unable to pay their rent to those operating sober homes. Sober home operators in turn may not be able to pay their rent, therefore losing their ability to pay for housing to assist those in dire need of roofs over their heads. This adds injury to insult in what is an already complicated system built to help those suffering from substance use disorder reintegrate into society while getting sober. This lack of safe housing may also contribute to the overdose and death of the especially vulnerable.
To help support those most at risk in recovery, Hanley Foundation is organizing and gathering information on its website (https://hub.hanleyfoundation.org) specifically for those most vulnerable. This includes links to online resources, meetings and professionally moderated forums for those at risk and their families. It includes information and guidance for the Sober Curious and those seeking help in uncertain times.
We must adapt or many will die.
The time is now to creatively implement solutions that provide virtual interventions, access to peers, and treatment services. We have some of the brightest and best right here in Palm Beach County, who have the ability to step forward and help those individuals that may otherwise perish as a result of this disease. Covid-19 has been a devastation upon the planet, and we need to make sure that substance use disorder does not compound the problem. Please think about getting involved or volunteering in some capacity to be an advocate for what is still the number one cause of death in America for those under the age of 55, even amongst the presence of a pandemic that has essentially shut down the entire world.
Joshua S. Horton is an attorney in Palm Beach County at The Joshua S. Horton Law Firm, PA. The Firm specializes in Substance Use Disorder Law, and is currently providing Policy Consulting for the Hanley Foundation.