08/31/20: For the last two weeks I have been struggling with my blog post. I thought I had my next post lined up perfect – complete with an unofficial facebook poll about the various effects COVID-19 has had on how families are spending time with one another. I began to write and my mind went blank. Words seemed to stumble over one another every time I would try to create a sentence. Nothing sounded right, so I took a break and moved on to something else that had been on my mind. This week I noticed several familiar faces in our county’s local arrest report. Friends and family members of people I know – people I’m close to. Many of them shared the same charges: possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and parole violation. They are involved in a vicious cycle, one very difficult to overcome. However, it’s not impossible. One who overcomes this cycle is considered to be “in recovery”.
Today, September 1, is the beginning of National Recovery Month. Yesterday, August 31, was International Overdose Awareness Day. These two dates and their themes are opposite ends of a spectrum – one end is incredibly sad with a tragic ending, the other optimistic and hopeful. Despite the differences, they are tied together by one thing: addiction. Chances are, if the topic of substance misuse or addiction comes up, most people you talk to have been impacted in some way or another. I’d even go so far as to say that most of us have a friend, family member, or acquaintance whose life has been altered by substance misuse.
Our Empowering Youth and Families Program focuses on opioid misuse, and for good reason. In North Carolina, an estimated 79% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018. Since 2017, the annual opioid overdose rate in North Carolina has been slowly coming down. However, recent data already shows an uptick in opioid overdoses so far this year. Stay at home orders, loss of employment, and all of the other stressors associated with COVID-19 have more than likely contributed to this increase. This week I was able to have a conversation surrounding this theory with two of the strongest women that I know. In Mitchell and Yancey counties, they are simply referred to as “the Cassies”.
Cassie Burleson and Cassie York are peer support specialists for Mountain Community Health Partnership, an agency that serves Mitchell and Yancey counties. When discussing the effect that COVID-19 has had on the community they serve, Burleson summed things up perfectly: “COVID restrictions, less human interaction, and less accountability in people’s lives are causing people’s mental health to deteriorate both in seemingly well people, people who are in active substance use, and people who have mental health diagnosis. We were created to be relational people, and people are suffering. Unfortunately, I know several people who have relapsed during these last few months. Limited transportation has also been a barrier, along with meetings and churches being closed. Speaking only for myself, isolation is a deadly place for me to be. I have lived years in isolation during active use and I treasure my new life I don’t want to escape from!”
During this time of isolation, uncertainty, and stress, don’t lose touch with your community. Chances are, you will remain close to certain friends and family but after so much time apart, one can easily forget to check in on co-workers, church members, and others that you’d encounter on a normal day. We never know what others are dealing with or what their past consists of. Simply checking in on someone might just be the lifeline they need to stay afloat. This is especially true for those who are on the path to recovery – no matter where on that path they may be.