Addiction is an equal opportunity affliction that affects people regardless of race, economic standing, education, and geography. August is Overdose Awareness month and we would like to call special attention to the severity of the issue–especially during such uncertain times.
2020 was the deadliest year for drug overdoses in Minnesota history and 2021 is on a similar course based on the preliminary data. “This is a staggering loss of human life,” notes Brandon Marshall, Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends. Overdose deaths in 2020 started to increase sharply in March, largely driven by social isolation, loss of livelihood, and stress combined with the increase in deadly, synthetic opioid being circulated. At this time, approximately 80% of all opioid-involved deaths in the Twin Cities involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanyl.
These numbers have guided WellShare to reflect on our work and what we can do to further help the current crisis, especially within communities where substance use and abuse has been historically stigmatized. For example, the Somali community in the Twin Cities is dealing with its own opioids crisis right now and many are suffering in silence. Muslim Faith leaders share ideas and action steps they’d like to implement in their communities to help combat the opioid epidemic. Khadar Abi, former client of the multicultural treatment organization, Alliance Wellness Center explains, “the stigma is when somebody is addicted and has a mental illness problem that they can’t be saved, and our journey is showing people that there is change by experience and by education.”
The magnitude of this crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Fortunately, WellShare has been able to form partnerships and alliances with other local organizations to address this issue. “Addiction and overdose is really the secondary pandemic we are experiencing”, one WellShare staff member notes. To effectively help address this problem, WellShare has developed a comprehensive mental health promotion strategy to:
- Increase access to culturally relevant resources and support
- Decrease stigma within immigrant and refugee populations
- Raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse and the link between mental health and substance abuse and provide addiction service referrals
- Link community members to mental health, addiction, and other social services and resources
- Train staff in helping identify and mitigate mental health crises using evidence-based programs, Psychological First Aid, and Mental Health First Aid training.
- Provide community-based group class offerings aimed at reducing stress and promoting healthy coping using Mind-Body Medicine to help harness the power of thoughts and emotions.
There is a long road ahead of us and much work that needs to be done, yet calls for help are coming out of the shadows. Brave youth are coming forward and leaders are listening. “It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood”-psychologist Alice Miller.