Overdose deaths in Springfield on the rise, experts worry for those in recovery

Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 9:52 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - More people in Greene County have died from drug overdoses already this year than any of the last four years. The medical examiner tracked a nearly 50% jump from last year alone. Experts believe the coronavirus could be a factor.

Between March and June of 2019, 24 people in Greene County died from overdoses. This year, during the same time period, that number jumped to 45. In 2018, it was 28; 2017, 33.

It’s the people already in recovery who experts are most worried about overdosing right now.

“We want you to find recovery. We want you to find the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Joshua Lien.

Lien knows all too well what darkness looks like. After dealing with substance use for years, he overdosed in 2014.

“I remember waking up strapped to a hospital bed. I didn’t even know my name,” he said.

Now he helps others find their own way out of addiction at the Springfield Recovery Community Center, but worries the pandemic could cause relapse for many.

“The situation with the world right now, with COVID and unemployment rising because of COVID, I think it adds those stressors to people that are in recovery,” Lien said. “You think about someone in recovery, the reason that we chose that lifestyle in the first place is escaping some kind of pain, some kind of pressure.”

Dr. Drew Shoemaker said social isolation steals support from those who struggle. He said Burrell’s Behavioral Crisis Center has seen an uptick in the need for psychiatric and substance use services.

“You know, people in recovery who already have experienced a substance use disorder are at higher risk than the general population is,” Shoemaker said. “When those support systems are removed, it can make relapse more likely.”

Shoemaker and Lien both say someone who relapses can overdose easily if they try to use as much as they did before detoxing.

“It is so important that if you’re in recovery and you’re thinking about using and you’re in a spot where you think you might, reach out to someone. If you’re not going to reach out, be smart about how you’re using. Think about harm reduction tips so that you don’t fall prey to overdosing,” Lien said.

Lien said he knows five local people who have died from overdosing just this month, including one who relapsed. Shoemaker said every loss is heartbreaking.

“Every overdose represents a family member that’s not contributing to that family and it can be devastating,” Shoemaker said.

That’s why they said shedding light on the issue, during some really dark times, is extremely important.

“Raising that awareness and lowering that stigma helps save lives,” Lien said.

Lien said he does not encourage anyone to keep using drugs, but said, if you are going to, never do so alone. He also said, have Narcan nearby and test for Fentanyl before using. The Springfield Recovery Community Center has both of those items available.

The center also offers meeting, support groups and social events.

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