Some in treatment say pandemic caused them to go back to their drug addiction

Austin Santrock (left) and Zach Fitzsimmons (right) say the stress of the coronavirus pandemic caused them to relapse and go back to their former drug habits and addictions.{ } (WCHS/WVAH)

In addition to impacting all areas of our lives, emergency medical officials are also blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for a dramatic increase in overdose calls and overdose deaths.

Austin Santrock and Zach Fitzsimmons have two things in common. Both are in drug recovery for their addictions, but when COVID-19 hit in March both went back to their old drug habits.

"There was guilt, shame and remorse all the way. The moment I did it I felt so guilty and ashamed of myself," Santrock said.

"It put me in a mind of fear too. I was, like, not wanting to reach out to nobody. I didn't want to get corona or nothing like that so I isolated a lot," Fitzsimmons said on why he relapsed.

Santrock said the stress of COVID-19 along with isolation from the lock down in March caused him to overdose.

"We're addicts. We love to taking the easy road out. When something goes wrong in our lives or gets hard we'll just run back to it. It's the easiest thing to do than easier getting through whatever it is sober," Santrock said.

It's a story all too common across the region. According to Cabell County Emergency Medical Services, last year there were 878 suspected overdoses, and so far this year there are 619.

Officials say they started to see the spike in overdose cases when the stay-at-home order was issued.

"We immediately shut everything off. Just shut it off. We had the highest relapse rate in a three day period I've seen in ten years," Rocky Meadows, executive director and founder of Life House Ministries in Huntington, said.

Meadows said he then took steps to make sure clients were physically distant, but not socially distant, connecting with them online and in smaller groups.

"It was not the best scenario, but it's what you make of it. I made the wrong choice," Fitzsimmons said.

Cabell County emergency officials said they have also seen a dramatic increase in possible suicide calls that also began to spike when the stay-at-home order was issued.