Not to be lost in the COVID-19 pandemic is the years-long opioid epidemic, thrust back into the spotlight this week on International Overdose Awareness Day, which included an event in Shamokin that was heartfelt and heartbreaking at the same time.

International Overdose Awareness Day began in 2001 as a way to promote “effective strategies, frontline workforce education and public awareness activities.”

As the epidemic continues within the pandemic, it is still too early to know what the effect COVID-19 will have when it comes to addiction. Experts expect the impact to be significant.

“The analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime wrote in its 2021 World Drug Report released this summer. “The social impact of the pandemic — driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations — represent factors that could push more people into drug use.”

According to the most recent World Drug Report, an estimated 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017. In 2019, 50,000 Americans had fatal overdoses on opioids, more than double the total from a decade earlier. In April 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, 90,237 Americans suffered a fatal overdose, a sign that the pandemic has already had a significant toll.

With much of the focus rightfully shifting to COVID over the past year and a half, perhaps we have lost sight of the impact addiction can have.

That was the reason for this week’s Overdose Awareness Day event in Shamokin, where the focus was on hope. Hope for addicts, their families and the community as a whole, searching for a way to find stability amid the ongoing spiral.

“To you who wander, grab on to the hope we cast here tonight,” Tiffany Kaseman, a board member of Oasis Community Recovery Club, read from a poem she wrote. “If it’s not your first attempt, grab on again and again, and again. If you have a desire to fight, then our hope has no end.”

The fight will take all of us to make sure those seeking help get it. There are a growing number of outreach programs, including Oasis. Those involved are doing what they can to help overcome the stigma often associated with addiction and make sure those who need help know people want to help.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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