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Positive Ripples

It's no secret that before the covid-19 pandemic, our nation was fighting a different public health emergency--addiction. While the coronavirus pandemic is challenging millions of people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and threatening America's progress against the opioid crisis, recovery advocates are shifting gears to help our most vulnerable.

We know addiction is deadly and it does not discriminate. But recovery is attainable. It is a broad, roomy highway. There exists a group of people who have escaped much despair and pain and are free of addiction today. According to a report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there are over 22 million Americans living in recovery.

Another challenge is that many federal programs that were created to overcome the addiction crisis have been stalled due to the pandemic. Furthermore, any closure of residential programs will make life even more difficult for people suffering from addiction. We cannot afford to go backward. We saw a slight dip in our overdose rates in 2018, but many are worrying the illness could damage the progress we have made. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Sixty-eight percent of those deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid."

Social distancing cannot turn into social isolation for persons living in recovery. While America waits for some programs to start offering services again, the message of hope is being carried on the backs of Peer Recovery Specialists (persons with lived experience who meet specific state guidelines including extensive Peer Recovery training). Peers are suiting up and showing up for our vulnerable populations who are impacted by the disease.

In a published article by Psychology Today, Timmen L. Cermak, M.D., writes, "Isolation becomes a weapon and a solution--then a prison. Social isolation protects one's secrets and puts Miracle-Gro on addiction." If by what many have said about the opposite of addiction being connection, then what are those in recovery doing during the pandemic to stay connected?

Compassionate communities have emerged online as the go-to alternative for human connection. Many are participating in Zoom meetings where they are connecting with 12-step fellowships locally, as well as worldwide. Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous central office's website (arkansascentraloffice.org) for more information. Experienced recovery advocates are hosting live events, webinars, and discussions on multiple social media platforms. For the first time in history, the Arkansas Department of Youth Services has allowed Peer Support Specialists to remotely share their recovery stories with incarcerated youth. In short, a crisis can bring out the best of us as well as the worst of us. It is important to focus on our well-being right now. If you have something positive to share, put it out there. Create a positive ripple. Dr. Caleb Alexander of Johns Hopkins' school of public health said, "People in recovery rely on human contact, so the longer social distancing is needed, the more strained people may feel." I implore those who may be struggling to reach out. A return to use would be catastrophic. Remember, there is no current problem or challenge that a drink or drug won't make 10 times worse. Life is not a continuation of present circumstances, and we will be able to congregate again. But for right now, perhaps the lifeline for those seeking recovery support is a connection to the Internet.

Thanks to the help of the Arkansas Drug Director's Office, I, along with Jimmy McGill, Peer Recovery Coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, created The Recovery Clinic on Facebook as a way for people to stay connected. We know many people are having a tough time during quarantine and isolation. The Recovery Clinic provides an opportunity to engage instead of living on an island of one. The livestream is every Wednesday and Saturday at 11 a.m. ------------v------------ Christopher S. Dickie is CEO of Natural State Recovery Centers and serves on the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council. Editorial on 04/17/2020

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