Louisianans continue to battle the pandemic as we also recover from yet another devastating storm. While fighting a global pandemic and hurricane recovery, the opioid crisis has impacted our communities. The added isolation and stresses of COVID-19 have exacerbated mental health challenges and substance misuse.

In 2018, nearly 40% of reported drug overdoses in Louisiana involved opioids, amounting to 444 opioid-related deaths. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of overdose deaths has increased to 50% to 75% percent.

It has been said that “Addiction is a disease of isolation, and recovery is about connection.” While social distancing and isolation have been important to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, they present new challenges for people in recovery. Without the necessary across-the-board support, those who try to fight substance use disorders alone may see higher rates of relapse or overdose and could have trouble accessing the resources they need for lasting sobriety.

As we work to get our lives back to normal, we must also remain vigilant in supporting those we know are struggling with substance use disorder. Support from community leaders throughout the pandemic has been more critical than ever, including efforts like the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative.

I encourage you to take the first step in helping those struggling and talk about these issues — try to eliminate the loneliness that those battling mental illness can feel.

Combatting mental illness — including substance use disorder — will take all of us coming together to form inclusive and rigorous community support. By working together within our communities, we can operate more effectively on a broader scale so that no Louisianan is alone in the fight against mental illness and substance misuse.

MELISSA SILVA

executive director, Louisiana affiliate, Mental Health of America

Baton Rouge