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Opioid epidemic resurgence seen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 12:15 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 15:15:15-04

Known as the Green Mountain State, Vermont’s bucolic natural beauty offers a sharp contrast to the reality facing some of its residents.

“The room you're in here would be busy all day,” said Gary De Carolis, executive director of the Turning Point Center in Burlington, the state’s largest city.

Normally, 3,000 people would come to that addiction treatment center each month.

“Then, the pandemic hit and, of course, everything just went; everyone just retreated to their homes,” De Carolis said. “And we know that the enemy of recovery is isolation.”

The most recent stats available from the state’s Department of Health, from April, show Vermont had 47 opioid-related deaths, which is an increase over the 38 overdose deaths seen at the same time last year.

In addition, compared to April of last year, the rate of nonfatal opioid overdoses doubled from 14 percent to 36 percent.

Nationwide, the American Medical Association said nearly 40 states have seen spikes in opioid overdoses since the pandemic began.

“There is no question that the current COVID pandemic does increase risk factors that we know, even in typical times, are risk factors for overdose, more drug use,” said Dr. Patrice Harris of the American Medical Association.

Those risk factors included not having regular access to health care providers and a disconnect from normal routine and community, especially when in-person addiction treatment centers closed all over the country.

That’s where telehealth stepped in, up to a point.

“However, let's note there that if you didn't have a data plan or phone or computer or access to even broadband, then you weren't able to take advantage of that,” Dr. Harris said.

Back in Burlington, via phone calls or Zoom meetings, the Turning Point Center is seeing about 500 clients a month, a fraction of what they would normally see, but no less needed.

“Until we have a vaccine, I don't think it'll ever be business as usual,” De Carolis said. “One day at a time, as they say.”