Can Lessons From the Opioid Epidemic Apply to COVID-19?

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Photo by Chad Davis via Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic is re-shaping our lives, rapidly, and right before our eyes. While we cannot see the coronavirus without a microscope, its impact is absolutely visible: pain, suffering and death, as well as the unfolding tragedies of job loss, hunger and homelessness.

And still, beyond this, we know that even more is happening out of sight but will soon enough, tragically, become clear. Namely, we are likely to see an increase in mental health issues, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Advocates are already warning that the “virus forebodes a mental health crisis.” Since we know this is coming, we can have the foresight to prepare today to be ready to act tomorrow.

Those of us who have worked on saving lives at risk from opioid abuse bring useful experience to the challenge of dealing with the double impact of trauma experienced by those at-risk individuals suffering from the stress and anxiety of COVID-19 .

Jac Charlier

Jac Charlier

One of the most successful strategies for helping substance-abusers has been the creation of partnerships between the police and treatment providers aimed at “deflecting” or diverting someone who is using drugs into treatment, rather than into the justice system.

In these collaborative ventures, law enforcement learned to work side-by-side with drug treatment staff, peers and people in recovery. The treatment providers themselves learned to work alongside police, as they reverse overdoses, connect people to treatment, promote recovery, and save lives.

Deflection is not about arrest or using police for enforcement. It relies, instead, on the simple fact that police encounter tens of millions of people a year,and can serve as both eyes and ears in the service of public health.

John Rosiak

John Rosiak

The criminal justice and treatment system have faced collaboration challenges in the past. But, working together, these partners have overcome such challenges and saved lives.

The lessons learned from past police and health partnerships dealing with opioids and other drugs can be rapidly adapted to dealing with the traumas of the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.

We shouldn’t lose time in applying them to save lives.

Jac Charlier is the Executive Director of the Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC). John Rosiak is founder of Prevention Partnerships and a national expert in the roles of law enforcement in schools. Readers interested in participating in the National Survey to Assess Law Enforcement-led Diversion Programs and Fire/EMS-led Responses to the Opioid Crisis can click here: COAP-Survey.norc.org   

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