SHENANDOAH COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — As doctors and communities continue to work to slow the spread of COVID-19, another silent issue has been killing people in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
According to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, 11 overdose deaths have been reported in the northern valley since April 1, including three deaths in just the past five days.
In that same time, there have also been 17 reported non-fatal overdoses.
So far in 2020, the northern valley – which includes Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah, and Warren counties, as well as the city of Winchester, has seen 24 deaths and 59 injuries from drug overdoses.
At this point in 2019, there had been 14 deaths and 44 injuries, according to the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force.
Treatment experts believe isolation, stress, financial worries, and the cancellation of some support group meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely contributing to an increase in substance use and abuse.
Governor Ralph Northam has touched on the mental health toll in several of his COVID-19 briefings, saying treatment is necessary now more than ever, with research showing that some of the people at risk of feeling the most stress in a crisis include children, teens, health care workers, and those with existing substance abuse disorders.
But help is still available to those who need it during this pandemic.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition says it's important for anyone in recovery from a substance use disorder to create plans to protect their recover throughout this pandemic.
The key, they say, is for people in recovery and those seeking recovery to find support connections and ensure that isolation does not lead to relapse.
In April, the Department of Medical Assistance Services loosened restrictions on intensive outpatient therapy, allowing for people recovering from substance abuse disorder to receive addiction telehealth therapy.
Counselors say that's necessary because isolation is the exact thing they usually recommend their clients not do.
If you're at all concerned that your use of a substance is turning into abuse and even dependence, the folks at counseling and therapy offices want to help you now more than ever.
"I feel like people should give themselves a break and pick up the phone and call," one counselor said. "That's the hardest part. To say, 'Hey I need some help.' And hopefully we'll be able to help."
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition recommends the following ways to begin recovery or to avoid relapse:
Stay connected and create a sober network
• Reach out to a sponsor, trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional for support.
• Call the Peer2Peer Regional Warm Line where local Certified Peer Recovery Specialists are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 1-833-626-1490
• Attend a virtual support group meeting. You can join online 12 step meetings through Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery. Many of the 12 step programs also offer phone or chat support.
• Download the “Connections” app on your smartphone which was launched by the Addiction Policy Forum.
Create a daily schedule
• A daily routine is critical for individuals living with addiction. Try to maintain a sense of structure, but allow your schedule to be flexible.
• Schedule time every day for something creative or something that brings you fulfillment without substances.
Stay active – both for your physical and mental health
• Have an exercise plan. You could go for a walk outside, while maintaining social distancing. You could also engage in exercises that can be found online or on TV.
• Meditate. There are free apps that offer guided meditation.
If you suspect that a friend or family member has a substance use disorder, you should talk to the person about your concerns and offer help and support without being judgmental. You can receive free NARCAN from any of your local health district offices. Please call the office beforehand to schedule a pickup time. A list of the district offices and their contact information can be found here.
For additional information and resources, you can visit www.roadtorecovery.info and click on the treatment or resources tab at the top of the page.