DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Substance abuse during the holidays and pandemic

Digital Exclusive

FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2019, file photo, medications slated for destruction are shown in a locked storage area of the police department in Barberton, Ohio. Even as the coronavirus outbreak and the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic have been a dominating theme in this year’s presidential race, Ohio, a battleground state in the presidential contest, is on track to have one of its deadliest years of opioid drug overdoses. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Kevin Barber knows the struggles of substance abuse.

“I got caught up in the late 90s with the whole oxycodone epidemic when that first came out. I then transitioned into harder drugs. I transitioned into heroin use and abused for a number of years and then went through treatment and got clean. It’s been 15 years now.”

Barber uses his past battle with substance abuse to help others now, saying “treatment was the big motivating factor for me doing what I do professionally now.” He is now the Division Director for Residential Services at Gaudenzia, Inc.

Many people across the nation people use drugs and alcohol to temporarily mask the stress of the holidays. The result of using drugs and alcohol is often addiction. Addiction can then lead to greater problems, including overdose or even death.

“84 percent of people interviewed in a recent survey said that they were moderately to overwhelmingly stressed during the holidays, and 29 percent admitted to drinking more during the holidays,” says Jason Kisielewski, Community Affairs Manager at Gaudenzia Erie, Inc. 

Kisielewski also says the holidays are a time where they naturally see an increase in demands Gaudenzia’s  programs and services.  

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the most dangerous times of the year for drug-and-alcohol related deaths are December, January and March, and nearly 91,000 deaths have been reported for the month of December since 1999. 

Paramedics notice the spike too around the holidays not only in substance abuse calls, but also mental health calls. 

“One major concern that we do have during the holidays is not only substance abuse but also mental health awareness. We do see an uptick in behavioral health and mental health awareness calls normally around the holidays,” says David Basnak, Operations manager at EmergyCare. 

The severity of the struggle is seen especially through evidence of the opioid epidemic that our nation still currently faces. 

Barber says, “the most frequent thing that we see admissions into treatment for is opioid use, primarily heroin. We’re also seeing a big uptick in methamphetamine right now.” 

Source: Center for Disease Control 

This year, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the stress causing alcohol misuse and opioid epidemic to heighten. Nationwide, the pandemic is causing greater concern for substance misuse and recovery.  

 “One thing that is often overlooked is that our clients are essentially facing two pandemics at once: we are still in the midst of the biggest heroin and opioid epidemic to ever hit this country, and now, they are also battling the coronavirus pandemic,” says Kisielewski. 

Although COVID is a contributing factor to substance use, paramedics in our Erie area surprisingly haven’t seen much of an uptick of calls since the start. However, it’s important to notice that this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been an uptick.  

 Basnak says, “we’re on track with what we’ve seen in 2019, so we haven’t seen a huge spike like some of the other areas have seen. But I would also caution people to remember that doesn’t necessarily mean that substance abuse isn’t out there, and that there’s not an uptick of it. It just means that we aren’t seeing it, so we aren’t responding to it. “ 

If you or someone you know is facing substance abuse with drugs and alcohol, help is available. 

Barber says, “the alternative is overdose or death, it sounds really grim to say it that way but that’s the reality” 

Source: Center for Disease Control

There are many outlets of help accessible and treatment centers in Erie for people battling addiction. 

“Help is available on all levels of care whether its residential, detox, outpatient treatment,” says Barber. 

People struggling can also call the 24/7  SAMSHA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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