opioid epidemic

‘People Are Having a Very, Very Hard Time Maintaining Recovery' in Pandemic, Drug Addiction Specialists Say

Overdoses are up significantly this year in the City of Alexandria

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health professionals say we can't forget about the other epidemic that was already spiraling out of control: the opioid crisis.

The City of Alexandria says overdoses are up significantly this year. Virginia as a whole has seen a 66% increase in overdoses this year.

"This is a public health crisis on top of a public health crisis," said Alexandria Opioid Response Coordinator Emily Bentley.

Doctors explain the stress of isolation, loss of work and loss of health coverage are partially to blame -- but they're finding that something else is causing the spike in overdoses.

"There's been a stress on the supply chain so a lot of these patients have to access drugs from different dealers and use drugs that are maybe unfamiliar to them," said, Dr. Husam Alathari of Inova Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services.

The City of Alexandria is seeing this right now.

The city's opioid response coordinator says drug dealers are pressing their own pills, made to look like pharmaceuticals but laced with the powerful and often deadly opioid fentanyl.

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"They think they're purchasing like a Percocet or something of that nature," Bentley said. "They just don't have any idea how strong the pill they're about to take is because they're unaware that it has fentanyl."

I meet people who say, 'I relapsed because I'm home and I'm alone and I'm not busy with my job or the socialization of the job environment'

Andrea Lubeck of Inova Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services

Addiction specialists are encouraging employers to understand that working from home might not be the best environment for some people, especially those who struggle with addiction.

"I meet people who say, 'I relapsed because I'm home and I'm alone and I'm not busy with my job or the socialization of the job environment,'" said Andrea Lubeck of Inova Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services.

Addiction treatment and recovery are also more challenging now because many group and in-person therapy sessions can only be held virtually.

"People are having a very, very hard time maintaining recovery in this sort of isolated, virtual state," Bentley said.

One silver lining is that while overdoses are up, Alexandria says the number of overdose deaths is flat -- which they attribute to police officers carrying NARCAN, a potentially life-saving drug given to someone experiencing an overdose.

Both Alexandria and Arlington will now send NARCAN to residents' home for free via mail. Residents can keep it at home if they live with someone struggling with addiction.

In Alexandria, NARCAN is available for free by calling 703-746-4888 or emailing opioids@alexandriava.gov. In Arlington, email narcan@arlingtonva.us or call 703-228-4216.

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