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COVID-19 pandemic affects opioid crisis and recovery


Missouri continues to be one of the states most impacted by the opioid crisis, and that has only become more difficult to fight during COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, 1,610 people died from overdosing on opioids.

So far in 2020, there have been 10 overdose deaths from fentanyl in Columbia city limits.

Jeffry Rukstad is a sergeant at the Columbia Police Department in Vice, Narcotics, and Organized Crime.

He said the number of times police have used Narcan has increased, in part, because officers have received more training and feel more comfortable.

He said the crisis has pivoted in recent years because the drugs have changed.

"In the first, probably, five years that I was in narcotics were never even talked about heroin or opioids, and then it's all we talk about now," he said.

He said a majority of what the division sees now is heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. Rukstad explained heroin and fentanyl are interchangeable because they are all fentanyl at this point. They are much easier to access than opioid pills.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the use of opioids, but it has affected the recovery process.

Jamie Martin is the executive director of Fresh Start Sober Living Programs. Fresh Start has been working to provide housing and help people recover from their addictions during the pandemic.

"COVID-19 has impacted the recovery community like nothing else. You know, we thought heroin was bad, well now we've got heroin in a pandemic," Martin said.

She noted that many resources like treatment centers are closed because of the virus.

Fresh Start has been providing work for people who have had difficulty finding a job in the pandemic.

"During COVID, everybody that worked before lost their job," she said. "People that had income and were paying their rent and succeeding in recovery in 12-step fellowships all around the community, all the different places that people could go to recover, all that shut down."

She said they have made up jobs for people to be able to stay as long as they are clean and sober.

They also helped train people on using Zoom and other technology to do interviews or meetings online instead of in person.

Fresh Start has had to adjust in several ways. Martin said they have brought meetings into the homes, providing process groups, personal protective equipment and more. People living in homes have been cleaning more often. Staff has also driven people to meetings when they meet in different spaces that allow social distancing.

Martin said they have not had any Coronavirus cases at Fresh Start.

Martin said Fresh Start took as many people as it could from treatment centers and other places closing.

She said months into the pandemic, the changes are starting to become more normal or routine, even though at times recovery seemed hopeless for some.

"The girls say, you know, 'We were hopeless and dopeless, you know, and now we have a roof over our heads. We have a life. You know, we have something to look forward to,'" Martin said.

Rukstad said it could be more difficult for family or friends to notice the signs of opioid use when people are not with them as often during the pandemic. He said those signs often include change in behavior or being sick often.

He said people can still check in using other platforms.

"Facetime or phone or however, for sure," he said.

Martin said there are still good resources to help people fight the crisis during the pandemic.

She said the Central Missouri Recovery Coalition is a good resource. Anyone can email the coalition at Mid-Missouri Area Narcotics Anonymous is another resource available.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates

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Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen reports in the evenings during the week and on the weekend.


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