Intersection of COVID-19 and Overdose
While the world has undoubtedly been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, another epidemic continues to kill Americans: opioid drug overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths have accelerated in the United States since the onset of the pandemic. Over 81,000 overdose deaths occurred in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.
The intersection between COVID and increase in overdoses is significant. The economic and social impacts of these two coexisting epidemics are greater than the sum of their parts. With over 30 states seeing increases in opioid overdose, primarily with illicit fentanyl-laced opioids (Millennium Health, 2020) it is no surprise that emerging research credits the pandemic-related upending of the healthcare and social service delivery system with increased isolation for those who use drugs, many of which have multiple intersecting mental health needs and/or increased needs for recovery support and connection. In short, pandemic-exacerbated isolation is a silent killer, the effects of which our country will be mitigating far into the future.
National findings from a 2020 Millennium Health report revealed the following national increases in drug use:
- 31.96% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl
- 19.96% increase for methamphetamine
- 10.06% increase for cocaine
- 12.53% increase for heroin
An interconnected network of passionate service providers, communities, families, and those with lived experience is the key to unlocking a holistic continuum of recovery care. As part of NCACH’s work to improve health, we have been investing in communities to support recovery and prevent substance use disorder (SUD) since 2017. In 2020, these efforts expanded to bring on a full-time Recovery Coach Network Coordinator, whose role is to fortify local efforts to support those in recovery through partnership-building and network-strengthening. In other words, provide support for recoverees and provide pathways to recovery for those in need through a web of connected services and communities.
But how does all of this fit into NCACH’s vision of whole person health?
Simple. Building a system of whole person health includes supporting those recovering from alcohol and substance use disorders, including those who may be in relapse or at risk of overdose. Improved access to closed loop support and recovery services helps keep people in recovery, which means that they stay healthier and are able to be productive members of the community. People in active addiction are typically less healthy and often require more acute community resources (e.g. EMS resources, law enforcement, emergency department services, etc), which can be costly for the communities. All to say, getting people access to the services and resources they need means that we are not just improving the lives of individuals, but we are also improving the overall health of the community.
So, what does advancing whole person health through a recovery lens look like?
1. Supporting workforce development and peer-to-peer services through our work with the Recovery Coach Network
NCACH aims to be a critical partner in building a community-based workforce with lived experience and who can provide unique and informed support services for individuals in recovery across the region. To date, 18 new Recovery Coaches were trained this quarter with funding provided by NCACH. Since 2018, over 60 recovery coaches have been trained through NCACH’s Recovery efforts. Even more exciting is that 6 coaches from the program have been hired by regional Recovery Coach network partners. Another Recovery Coach training is also in the works, scheduled for June 2021.
“The [substance use disorder] SUD Peer, or Recovery Coach, integrated within our primary care setting, is essential to the high quality, team-based care we provide to patients taking medication for opioid use disorder in our Federally Qualified Health Care clinic system. People with the lived experience of addiction can offer a quality and level of connection that is just not possible, despite the best of intentions, for staff without that experience,” says Kathleen Manseau, who manages opioid crisis programs at Family Health Centers.
2. Improving access to care by expanding community-centered and peer-based recovery support and services
Working with a network of community partners, NCACH is launching a jail reentry program in the second quarter of 2021. The program places a Recovery Coach in Chelan County Regional Justice Center, who works to help people coming out of incarceration transition back to the community with the support from someone who has walked a mile in their shoes. Typically, when someone leaves a jail setting in our region, they are released very early in the morning and many times without reliable transportation, a cell phone, or someone to help them navigate things like housing rental, employment, or food assistance applications. Without support to address these needs quickly, recidivism, relapse, or even death are very real potential consequences. This new pilot program works in partnership the jail in Chelan and Douglas Counties and provides the opportunity for vetted, certified recovery coaches to go into the jail setting to build connection with an individual prior to release. Coaches will be a person’s first point of contact and support when they get out of jail to help them navigate re-entry to the community. If successful, this pilot will expand throughout our four-county region.
Lyndsey Roberts’ Story of Recovery is a powerful example of recovery in action. Listen to Lyndsey share her path from addiction to helping others in their recovery journeys.
This is just one of the many ways we are working with our partners and networks within the recovery continuum of care, which includes Chelan County Drug Court, the Regional Central Washington Recovery Coalition (branches in Chelan-Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan), treatment centers, and other coalitions that interact with those who have substance use outside of the jail setting. Looking ahead, NCACH continues to conceptualize how we can strengthen our network’s capacity to provide care as well as the community’s ability to access recovery services and supports.
3. Strengthening our networks and breaking the stigma through education and outreach
With collaboration and regional coordination at the core of what we do, NCACH is constantly seeking ways to build more connections, convene partners, and strengthen the region’s system of whole person health. Through a recovery lens, this looks like engaging and educating partners and communities on how they can be allies to individuals in recovery.
This quarter alone, we’ve engaged over 20 new partners about expanding the Recovery Coach Network by providing opportunities for recovery coaches in service-provider positions and organizations throughout the region.
We’ve also focused on providing education and resources on how to support those in active addiction or risk of relapse through community Narcan trainings and overdose response trainings.
Between January – April 2021, NCACH trained 9 individuals on how to safely administer naloxone in the event of an overdose, and over 200 doses of Narcan were distributed to organizations working with individuals at risk for overdose throughout region.
In addition to focusing efforts on those in active recovery and addiction, NCACH is focusing on upstream interventions to keep people from abusing or misusing substances in the first place. NCACH has been supporting school-based and school-aged substance use prevention efforts since 2019, which helps youth understand the risks, signs, symptoms, and ways to access help when they or a loved one is navigating substance abuse.
The Future of Recovery in North Central Washington
NCACH staff are working on expanding regional access to peer-based recovery supports through the Recovery Coach Network. While the Network is up-and-running in Chelan and Douglas Counties, we are working on building community partnerships to build capacity for and elevate the peer-based recovery support efforts already taking root in North Central Washington. We anticipate that the Recovery Coach Network expansion will serve several purposes as we engage our robust recovery community around drawing people in and meeting their recovery needs. Our ultimate goal is to reduce isolation and build individual and community resilience to Make Recovery the Epidemic. The work of NCACH and our partners is an opportunity to integrate recovery supports into the justice system as well across other systems, such as healthcare, behavioral health, and employment. Through these efforts, alongside with the work of our partners, we remain focused on building healthier communities where people can access the help they need and receive the support necessary to help us #MakeRecoveryTheEpidemic.