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Pandemic helped opioid epidemic surge in Ohio

Posted at 4:56 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 16:56:55-05

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The three months following our state's shutdown—April, May and June— set a record for the largest spike in opioid overdose deaths in Ohio in a decade.

“COVID-19 has really stolen the show,” said Carole Negus, director of nursing at Stella Maris.

During those months, in the beginning of the pandemic, the phones stopped ringing as much and requests for detox beds dropped at Stella Maris.

“They were afraid to come out, they didn’t want to come out, they didn’t want to come into treatment,” said Negus.

For those who did, they didn't stay long.

“People would come in and say 'I can’t stay in here, it’s too closed in, there’s too many people, I need to go, I just need to go, I just need to go.' So, they were freaking out basically,” said Negus.

Negus said in addition to that fear factor - there were fewer beds available due to social distancing.

Stella Maris dropped down to 12 beds from 20 at a time when 12-step in-person programs switched over to Zoom.

“One of the things that we do know about recovery is that it takes community to recover. Community basically shut down,” said Negus.

After seeing the detrimental impact of the pandemic on people in recovery, the staff at Stella Maris has been working to safely extend a safety net to those who are struggling.

“People coming in the doors that have had like 10 or 12 years sobriety, and they are relapsing,” said Negus.

The facility now has access to rapid testing and decided to start operating at full capacity to meet continued demand.

“The risk for dying from an opioid overdose was just as high if not greater than the risk of getting COVID-19,” said Negus.

Negus warned that this opioid crisis is far from over.

She said they are seeing more people come in with long-term mental health issues than before the pandemic.

Thankfully, she said the fear to seek treatment has subsided.

However, there's still a struggle accessing beds in detox across Northeast Ohio.