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Saturday, October 16, 2021

‘There’s a lot of fear, a lot of pain’: the pandemic and sobriety

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When Malia started working from home last March, she worried she would relapse.

Malia, whose last name is being withheld for privacy concerns, battled an addiction to heroin for eight years. Now 36, she’s been sober for six years. But as it did for many people, the pandemic came with a lot of stress. Malia was afraid of contracting the virus, a fear that heightened after a family friend contracted COVID-19 and died alone in a hospital room.

“There’s a lot of fear and a lot of pain,” Malia said. “I was afraid to do basic things like go to the grocery store, but I was afraid of being alone at home. I was real afraid I would want to start using again.”

Thanks to virtual meetings with support groups and leaning on her faith, Malia made it through last year and this year without relapsing.

“I put it in God’s hands,” Malia said. “And he got me through it.”
For many in recovery, though, the pandemic caused symptoms of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. Michaelangelo McClendon, director of Drug Free Marion County, said mental health disorders and a predisposition to addiction is a dangerous combination.

“Especially during COVID-19, we’re seeing an increase in depression and anxiety which can lead to alcoholism and drug abuse,” McClendon said. “People are turning to drugs just to cope.”

In June 2020, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress from the pandemic. Overdoses also have spiked over the past two years, in part due to an increase in the use of fentanyl. This synthetic, highly addictive drug is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and is often found laced in other drugs, especially cocaine.

In Indiana, the African American community has seen a heightened risk of overdose since the beginning of the pandemic.
Gina Fears, assistant director of recovery and community services at Public Advocates in Community re-Entry (PACE), said the percentage of African Americans using opioids has increased since March 2020.

A report from the Department of Public Health found opioid-related overdose deaths among African American men rose 69% in 2020, the highest increase of any ethnic or racial group.

Throughout September, which is National Recovery Month, PACE has held workshops on how to use naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. The organization offers naloxone year-round in its “Nalox-Box” free of charge. Having naloxone available and training people on how to use it, Fears said, could save a life.

“People who are struggling with addiction don’t have it written on their forehead,” Fears said. “You never know who might need naloxone to save their life, it could be the woman sitting next to you at church. Having it on you and knowing how to use it is beneficial to everyone.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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