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Coronavirus Complicates the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

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Evan Beebe/WAER News
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The coronavirus pandemic has occupied headlines for most of 2020, but there is another public health emergency that hasn't gone away. Monday, August 31st is Overdose Awareness Day, an opportunity for Central New York health experts to remind communities the problem is still prevalent.

Helio Health is one substance abuse treatment center that has faced challenges due to the pandemic. Medical Director Dr. Ross Sullivan says the transition to telemedicine has been valuable, but Helio is still struggling to reach everyone that needs help.

“We had to convert the way we gave our resources really quickly, but even in doing so there’s still people who need to come in and now they can’t. There’s no transportation,” Sullivan said. “Even in our instance, Covid still impacted us even though we converted our services over to telephone and video as soon as it happened.”

Helio Program Director Ron Wood adds the quarantine coronavirus forced many people into could have been costly for those fighting to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“We’re hearing of increasing reports of individuals overdosing, being revived by Narcan, going to the hospital, and then not being connected to services fast enough, unfortunately having sometimes multiple overdoses before they’re able to be connected to care, Wood said.”

Like most institutions, the substance recovery field has had to adapt and change due to the pandemic. Helio Health has been fortunate to stay open, but Sullivan says the lack of prevention and Narcan training sessions these past four months has made it challenging to fight the opioid crisis.

“I remember, on the weekly, we would talk about Narcan. We would give lectures and talks to people throughout the community and the state,” Sullivan said. “Those things about Narcan and harm reduction... I haven't really seen many of them in the last few months, or they haven't asked us to partake in a lot of these things. There’s a whole different consciousness out there right now.”

Wood and Sullivan agree that the pandemic is rightfully on top of many people's minds.  However, they wish everyday could be Overdose Awareness Day because of the instability the year has brought on for those struggling with addiction.

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Credit Prevention Network/Healing Hearts Collaborative
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Prevention Network/Healing Hearts Collaborative
Overdose Awareness Day might be more important than ever before with the opioid crisis out of the national spotlight.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.