More people are seeking treatment for drug or alcohol use in the wake of COVID-19.
“We actually have seen an increase in our numbers for people who are in Medication-Assisted Treatment,” said Vince Mercuri of The Open Door in Indiana.
However, some places where one may go for help haven’t been available because of pandemic-related concerns.
“Some of the 12-step programs had to take a break,” said Dr. Erick Lauber, director for leadership training and research at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute for Community and Behavioral Health.
While much of the attention has been on the daily COVID-19 counts, including six deaths in the past four months in Indiana County, the counting also continues for fatal drug overdoses.
The number of opioid-related deaths stands so far this year at 15 in Indiana County, according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Overdose Free PA website.
The site is a database for information from county coroners including Jerry Overman Jr. in Indiana County, who said earlier this month that the vast majority of those deaths resulted from heroin and/or fentanyl.
The number puts the county on course for fewer deaths than in 2019 (38), but more than in 2018 (23).
“We are waiting to see if we are going to end the year like 2018 or like 2019,” Lauber said. “2018 ended with a big drop while 2019 had a surge. I am hoping we end up like 2018.”
Mercuri said the Indiana County Drug Task Force has been pretty active, with such activities as an increased distribution of naloxone or Narcan to first responders.
“This year with the pandemic everything is fairly unpredictable,” Mercuri acknowledged.
Statewide, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said preliminary figures showed a decrease of more than 1 percent in the number of fatal overdoses, from 4,422 in 2018 to 4,348 last year.
That does not include 62 death records for 2019 where a county coroner or medical examiner has reported neither the cause of death nor toxicology information to the department.
However, state Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said none of those 62 cases are in Indiana County.
An opioid emergency declared by Gov. Tom Wolf is well into its third year, having been renewed at regular intervals. It has gone on amid the pandemic emergency declared by the governor in March.
“We must continue to realize that the opioid crisis has not gone away,” Levine said this week. “Anyone with a substance use issue should contact Pennsylvania’s Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.”
“As we battle an epidemic in the midst of pandemic it is important for people to know that drug and alcohol treatment providers are still operating, and help is available,” said state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith.
The Open Door is among those agencies licensed by the state for drug and alcohol outpatient treatment services, as well as crisis intervention services.
Mercuri said the isolation, the fear and the lack of coping mechanisms contribute to making individuals more prone to try to escape the situation through drug or alcohol abuse.
“The numbers for drinking are up,” Mercuri said. “Alcohol use is increasing through the pandemic.”
He cited Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board figures indicating increased shipments of alcoholic beverages.
Lauber, meanwhile, has focused on the prevention side of drug and alcohol abuse.
“My major concern is trying to reach parents,” said Lauber, who with four IUP students have teamed up as “2020 Parenting” with a decodingtodaysyouth.com blog.
“It’s a blog that parents read every month,” Lauber said. “If we can get the parents to understand the complexities, then maybe we can reduce the susceptibility of the next generation.”
There also is a “2020 Parenting” Facebook page.
The Open Door has its theopendoor.org website and can be reached at (724) 465-2605.