The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the surge of another crisis: the opioid epidemic. Day-to-day disruptions brought on by the pandemic, as well as other factors such as feelings of uncertainty, have accelerated the already existing opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record number of 81,000 overdose-related deaths in a 12-month period ending in May 2020. [1]

Almost every state reported an increase in overdose deaths in 2020.

There are four major elements of recovery as noted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). [2] Each of these four elements were disrupted by COVID-19:

  1. Health — overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
  2. Home — having a stable and safe place to live.
  3. Purpose — conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  4. Community — having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

Along these four elements are the CDC recommendations for responding to the opioid crisis: [3]

  1. Expand distribution and use of naloxone and overdose prevention education.
  2. Expand awareness about and access to and availability of treatment for substance use disorders.
  3. Intervene early with individuals at highest risk for overdose.
  4. Improve detection of overdose outbreaks to facilitate more effective response.

One realization of the past 18 months is the power of communities. Now that vaccines are being rolled out and the epidemic is falling under control, communities across the country are joining forces to deal with the aftermath.

A community in West Virginia, a state known for its fight against the opioid crisis, is doing exactly that. Their Quick Response Team (QRT) has been addressing the four factors mentioned above to help get individuals into treatment using the recommendations of the CDC.

The QRT, first established in 2017, includes representatives from law enforcement, fire, EMS, local hospitals, businesses, and public offices. The group provides a personal connection to the individuals they serve and through these personal connections, as well as the technology to ensure that nobody slips through the cracks, this small but mighty team has reduced overdoses in their community and changed the overall perception of the disease.

As the COVID-19 pandemic slows down, we must remember the lives affected and reach out to those who may be struggling with a substance use disorder.

Together we can build healthier communities by connecting individuals to the resources they need.

Read more about the West Virginia QRT in this recent case study.