Reducing Risk For People Who Use Drugs During COVID-19 | WGLT

Reducing Risk For People Who Use Drugs During COVID-19

Mar 24, 2020

People suffering from substance use disorder may be unable to find supply or a safe way to use during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chris Schaffner, program director of JOLT harm reduction, said closures and travel restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus are also cutting off drug supplies.

"While that sounds good on the surface, what it does is it leaves thousands of people vulnerable to severe withdrawals,” he said. “And with the synthetic drugs that have been on the market for the last ten years, those withdrawals are nearly intolerable for most people."

Schaffner said gone are the days of quitting "cold turkey." He said withdrawals can make people feel like they’re dying, and the desperation to treat those symptoms could drive people to less-regulated drugs or to use in less safe ways. That comes at a time when people are more isolated than usual, in the event of an overdose.

Plus, Schaffner said, limited in-office services due to the “shelter in place” order make it harder for Jolt to connect people with resources.

"In the city of Peoria, there's an ordinance that prevents the mobile distribution of sterile drug use supplies and the picking up of those supplies for safe disposal,” he said. “That significantly limits our ability to reduce harm around substance use  not just for the individual, but for our community.”

He said lack of access to clean supplies increases the risk of spreading diseases like hepatitis C and HIV.

JOLT’s office is still open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Schaffner said they’re limiting the number of people that can come in and, when possible, prescreening patrons by phone for COVID-19 exposure before they come in.

Depending on whether the person needs to be quarantined, Schaffner said, a JOLT employee will either meet them at the door with a bag of supplies or they can enter the office.

Regardless, he said, accommodations will be made to ensure vulnerable people are taken care of.

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