What is National Recovery Month?
September 2020 is the 31st anniversary of National Recovery Month (NRM), created to raise awareness on the treatment and care for people with substance abuse and other mental health disorders. A key goal of NRM is to remind us that treatment can enable those with mental and/or substance use disorder (SUD) to live healthy and rewarding lives. At its best, NRM is a celebration of lives in recovery. It is also a reminder to help those in need, this month and every month of the year.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected people with SUD?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected some people with anxiety, depression and SUD in negative ways. We’ve seen a stunning increase in drug use as well as overdose deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Millennium Health, a specialty laboratory, recently published findings on the rates of positive illicit drug tests for the first six months of 2020.
Compared to the pre-pandemic drug test positivity rate, their findings revealed a:
- 32% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl;
- 20% increase in methamphetamine;
- 5% increase for heroin; and
- 10% increase for cocaine.
The laboratory findings of a high rise in fentanyl compared to heroin is concerning. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and far more potent than heroin. The high potency of fentanyl and its analogs (drugs with similar properties) leads to high rates of overdose and death.
Before the start of the pandemic, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (e.g. carfentanil, furanylfentanyl, acetylfentanyl, etc) were the most common opioids associated with fatal overdose.
Illinois has been hard hit with a surge in opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic. Preliminary estimates from the Cook County coroner’s office indicate that opioid deaths in 2020 may be double that of 2019. In 2019, there were over 2,000 opioid overdose deaths in Illinois – if the trend continues, Illinois could have potentially more than 4,000 deaths in 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic.
So how is this grim new statistic related to recovery?
Deaths are the tip of the iceberg with regards to opioid deaths. For every death, there are dozens of people with opioid and substance abuse disorder who could be in recovery. It is estimated there are 286,000 people with opioid use disorder (OUD) in Illinois.
Here are some steps families and communities can take to help people with OUD start the journey to recovery.
Harm Reduction: Harm reduction keeps people alive until they are ready to take on the recovery process. For opioid users, this means keeping naloxone (Narcan® is the brand name) in the home and places where opioids are used. People with an opioid overdose die because they stop breathing. Naloxone reverses the deadly effects of opioids and allows the body to breathe fully. Naloxone saves lives. If you know someone with OUD, make sure family and friends have naloxone nearby.
Medication-Assisted Recovery and Recovery Care: For people who are ready, linking to recovery care as quickly as possible is a best practice. When the time comes, there is a dedicated Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances to assist individuals and families start the journey to recovery and good health.
The Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances is available at 1-833-2FINDHELP. The goals of the Helpline are to:
- Provide individuals and families with information and timely access to OUD behavioral health treatment, rehabilitation and recovery support services.
- Provide individuals and families with information and referral to a comprehensive range of OUD services and resources available to meet their needs.
- Assist callers with eligibility and insurance enrollment resources.
- Offer outreach and engagement to assist in connecting callers to care, when possible.
- Provide OUD behavioral health crisis intervention services.
September is National Recovery Month, but the road to recovery can start any month of the year.