Americans have experienced a crash course on the dangerous and frightening nature of a pandemic. But what of the thousands of Americans who have been fighting another epidemic for years, one even deadlier than COVID-19? And what happens when these two epidemics – opioid addiction and coronavirus – collide?
For most people, the current situation is challenging at best. But for those in recovery, this is a perfect storm of worst-case-scenarios. The suggested responses to opioid addiction and coronavirus are nearly complete opposites. Health experts have recommended social distancing and isolation across the country is in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this has become accepted as the “new normal” for the time being. But for recovering addicts, there is nothing more threatening than isolation.
Recovery is a process that is not undertaken alone. Meeting with counselors and fellow addicts is an essential part of staying on the difficult road of recovery. Now more than ever, the average American understands the importance of facing down a challenge together, of knowing that they are not alone. “We are all in this together” has become our battle cry. This is doubly important to the addict, who must now face two colliding epidemics with mutually exclusive paths back to health.
As a recovering addict myself I can attest to the almost schizophrenic nature of addiction. The constant voice in your head that whispers: You need it, do whatever it takes, just get your fix and you’ll be fine. As a recovery center, at Crossroads, our job is to offer another voice, a louder voice, a more positive voice, one that says: You can do this, you are enough, it is hard, but you are stronger. People in recovery, who are isolating at home alone, no longer have necessary positive input and are on their own to block out that persistent negative voice.
For addicts, self-isolation orders offer an alluring lie: This is what’s best for me. I’m supposed to stay away. It’s this thinking that is at fault for the skyrocketing rates of relapses and overdoses we’re seeing as global quarantine stretches on. Isolation is a curse to addicts, and it can cause suffering as swiftly as any plague.
Many addicts are caught in the crosswinds of these two deadly epidemics. The homeless population especially is at risk, with no place to quarantine and lacking access to the basic hygiene required to fight coronavirus. They face a very dangerous stretch of time. But there is a ray of hope for all those in this perilous position.
In all my years working in recovery, I have never seen a better opportunity for someone to start treatment. Do not listen to the voice that tells you to stay away from others. Now is the time to check in to treatment. For many people starting recovery, you will be safer from the virus in a treatment center, and safer from the lure of your addiction. At Crossroads, we are following the CDC guidelines, and in many instances are going above and beyond for the safety and protection of our residents and staff. We have taken it upon ourselves to make sure our residents need only focus on their recovery and let us take care of the rest.
My career in recovery has shown me the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. Those of us in recovery have faced hardships many times before and overcome. This will be no different.
It is the history of our great country to persevere in the difficult times. To come together when things look bleak. So it was during the Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11. Through all these times we always came back stronger and better. Now we find ourselves fighting a new battle, but this too shall pass. These circumstances have given us the opportunity to utilize new methods and technologies that we will use in the future to help even more people. And we will never give up. That is who we are and we will transform this into our finest hour for all those we support.
Lee Pioske is the executive director of Crossroads, a drug and alcohol recovery residential facility with over 60 years of proven expertise in serving addicted men, women and, veterans through the provision of high quality, successful, and affordable substance abuse treatment programs.