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Substance abuse continues to climb during the coronavirus pandemic

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AP Photo/Patrick Sison

Mental health and addiction specialists in Mississippi say there’s a large increase in alcohol and drug abuse directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 



Social distancing, job losses and the deaths of loved ones are some of the issues people are trying to cope with during the coronavirus pandemic.  Wendy Bailey is Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.  She says the CDC reported late last year that about 13 percent of Americans were starting or increasing substance use.

“You’ve got fear and worry for your health, the health of your loved ones.  A lot of people are experiencing anxiety from job loss or illness and a lot of people have turned to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs,” said Bailey. 

Bailey says they're finding more women turning to alcohol.  Some have had to quit jobs to be home with children and help them with virtual learning or juggle going to work and keeping children on track.  Others have taken on caregiving for an elderly relative. 

Bailey says last year their helpline received nearly 7,000 calls.  This year more than 8,000 have come in so far, an increase of 30 percent.  Also the National Suicide Hotline in Mississippi she says has seen a 30 percent rise in calls this year.  Russell Rainey is the Director of Addiction Services with Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg. They’re treating more patients during the pandemic with an increase across all demographics.

“I don’t think you’d have to do too much digging to find out that alcohol sales have been through the roof.  There’s definitely been an increase in illicit as well as legal substances,” said Rainey.

Also the legislature passed a law during the session last year, that allows businesses to deliver alcohol to customers 21 years of age and older, making it more readily available. 

Rainey says because the supply of opioids may be lower due to the pandemic, more people are getting them off the street and some have the deadly drug fentanyl in them.  

Although Erin didn’t become a substance abuser during the pandemic, she’s been in recovery from alcohol and drugs for 11 years.  She asked that we not use her last name to protect her identity.  Now, Erin helps others with their recovery.  She refers to substance abuse as a disease of isolation and the pandemic has put many people in that position.   The 43-year old shares what helped her become clean and sober can work for others.

“Getting connected and some type of therapy and just reaching out and not feeling that they are alone, that there are many people struggling with this,” said Erin.

Erin stresses that there is hope. Substance abusers think they are alone, but they're not.  She says a lot of people are struggling with addiction, the stigma and the guilt. 

Wendy Bailey with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health says they have received additional monies from the federal government to increase access to mental health and addiction services.  She adds those who have a friend or loved one who is addicted to opioids should keep naloxone on hand.  It rapidly reverses an opioid overdose and is available at drugstores without a prescription. 

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