“All that was missing were the hugs”: Virtual Recovery in the Era of the Pandemic

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

“Important Update regarding meetings,” read an announcement on the website of the Eastern Massachusetts Central Service Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous in early March. “Due to the Covid-19 health risk note that most meetings have been suspended by the host facility until further notice.” Similar posts appeared on the sites of AA chapters across the nation as the novel Corona virus grew increasingly widespread, prompting state and local governments to enact precautionary measures such as closures of businesses, schools, churches—wherever people could gather—to  slow its transmission. As officials encouraged citizens to stay at home and practice social distancing, alcohol and drug addicts found themselves in a particularly precarious state: isolated and struggling to cope alone with the mounting stress of living with the frightening specter of a global pandemic.  

Because of precautionary measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, the sites where traditional recovery meetings were held faced mass closures, disrupting networks and leaving addicts without a vital source of support.

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The pandemic is exacerbating other, co-occurring epidemic(s)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writers Mae Tidd and Deepika Rao, graduate students at UW-Madison in the Health Services Research in Pharmacy Program. 

Mae’s research interests focus on LGBTQ+ health and health communication in pharmacy spaces and wider medical spheres. She studies the promotion of health information (between physician and patient, health education, and public health campaigns), health activism, and community/stakeholder engagement. More specifically, she is working to understand HIV-prevention’s pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake, or the lack thereof, in the state of Wisconsin by identifying barriers that are obstructing health services along the cascade of the PrEP Continuum of Care. 

Deepika is particularly interested in studying the use of dissemination and implementation sciences in pharmacy, especially in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. Currently, her primary research involves using mixed methods approaches to explore and develop patient-centered interventions for opioid misuse that can be implemented in the pharmacy settings. 

The current pandemic continues to be the front of discussion, as it should be. Yet, we need not to forget the other epidemic(s) that continue to occur: opioid overdoses, HIV, and the effects of systemic racism chief among them. This is especially true because people among the subgroups affected by these epidemics are at increased risk for the coronavirus and face significantly more problems accessing health care.

As we head into the fifth month of seized day-to-day life, the repercussions of COVID-19 are more than apparent – numerous people are (still) unemployed, mentally drained, isolated, and even homeless. The high number of COVID deaths are compounded by the fact that there are also numerous long-term COVID patients who are still suffering from incapacitating symptoms. With no end in sight, society is flooded with uncertainty.

These repercussions are concerning as they impact the mass majority. Yet at a heightened concern is the pandemic has exacerbated issues for the 20 million+ people in the US battling a substance use disorder.

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