eNewsletter - September 2021

National Recovery Month: Revisiting the basics of substance misuse management
By: Justin Wolfe, LCPC, CADC, CRC 

In the past year, we’ve seen the social isolation, stress and anxiety that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. For those of us on the front lines treating substance use disorders, it’s likely no surprise that overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 93,000 in 2020, according to a news report. The nation saw a 29 percent increase over the previously held record of 72,000 drug overdose deaths set in 2019.

We saw the same story play out locally. Cook County, for example, saw a weekly average of 22.6 opioid overdose deaths (or a total of 3,843 deaths) between Jan. 1, 2018 and Oct. 6, 2020. During the 16 weeks between December 2019 to March 2020, the average number of weekly opioid overdose deaths rose to 35.1 and then jumped to an average weekly rate of 43.1 during the 11-week stay-at-home order. In the 18 weeks after the stay-at-home order was lifted, the number of opioid overdose deaths declined to an average of 31.2 per week.

DuPage County saw a 52 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in the first six months of 2020, compared to the same time frame in 2019. Overall, the county saw 112 opioid overdose deaths in 2020 — a 17 percent increase from 2019.

It is estimated that methamphetamines saw a 29 percent increase in use during the pandemic, likely due to the limited access to other drugs during that time. Overdose deaths tied to stimulants, such as methamphetamines, saw a 39 percent increase in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statistics speak to the power of isolation and stress and how drug addictions can flourish when resources and supports are limited. We know that those with substance use disorders often have decreased ability to deal with stressors, and now we are seeing the very real effect COVID-19 has had on those with SUDs.

September marks National Recovery Month. And though the pandemic has brought periods of isolation, this year’s theme, “Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community,” reminds those in recovery and those who support them that they are not alone in the journey.

As we help our clients navigate the road to recovery during a national pandemic it’s important to remind them, and ourselves, of some of the basics:

Good health habits play a key role in overall health. A good night’s sleep, healthy diet and regular exercise can help you stay healthy and focused, and boost your mood.

  • Mindfulness, and staying in the now, can help ward off stress and anxiety. Help your patient develop mechanisms that aid in concentrating on their goals and staying focused on the things that they can control. Practicing gratitude and being mindful of the things you have and the successes you’ve had can also help prevent added stress or anxiety.
  • Build relationships. While remote options helped us get through stay-at-home orders and shutdowns, many are “zoomed-out” by now. Encourage your patients to tend to healthy relationships and, if possible, to attend in-person support group or therapy sessions.
  • Let your patient know what resources, such as group recovery or support sessions, are available to them and what they can do if they have a relapse. With the added stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing what resources are available can aid in recovery efforts.
  • Take away the stigma of recovery. Help your patients see their addiction as a medical condition and that the steps they are taking are part of their treatment and recovery.
  • Remind your patients what to do in case of an emergency. If necessary, make sure your patients, or someone who lives with them, have access to Narcan to prevent an overdose death. Be sure they know where they can turn if they relapse. While relapses can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be the end of the recovery journey.

Though COVID-19 may have changed what the road to recovery may look like, the basics still hold true and will help keep our patients on their journey.