Overdose Stats “Not Surprising and Very Sad.”

SPRINGFIELD — Sara Kendall, Vice President of Clinical Operations for the Mental Health Association that serves the Greater Springfield Area, called the latest federal government statistics showing that overdose deaths in the country have increased by record numbers during the pandemic

According to preliminary statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths in 2020 increased nearly 30% to some 93,000 people. A number described as the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

“The piece I always come back to in my career is that addiction is a disease of isolation,” said Kendall, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a master’s degree in social work, who has seen an increase in those numbers reflected in the population MHA serves.

“It is a disease that keeps you away from supports in your family and in your community and does a lot to work against relationships. There is so much focus in healing and in recovery on rebuilding connections and minimizing isolation wherever possible.”

She added, “When the pandemic hit so quickly, so rapidly we all had to hunker down, and there was that fearful moment for those of us who work with people in recovery of ‘Oh, goodness, this hopefully won’t last long’ and what can we do to keep connectedness an option even if it is not in-person.”

Kendall said many people in recovery were able to use today’s technologies to access telehealth through electronic communication devices. However, she said therapy delivered remotely even on digital platforms that allow for visual interaction can fall short for this population as it “does not allow focus to learn and master how to make good connections.”

“It is removed. It is uncomfortable. It is awkward and can create an additional layer of discomfort,” Kendall noted. “It is hard to receive therapy while seeing yourself on a square. You are already coping with whatever concerns brought you in the door. Adding that discomfort is an additional challenge encountered.”

Kendall said the “protracted nature of the pandemic really became something very challenging to folks” dealing with substance use disorders and something she saw across age groups.

“We encountered a lot of folks who did as good as they could for as long as they could and then they just couldn’t do it anymore,” Kendall said. “We started to see a lot of folks relapsing. Folks who had been in sustained recovery for years. Some of them were seeking services because they were really fearful that they were going to start using again and they did experience a relapse. We did have a handful of folks dying secondary to overdose.”