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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Opioid Epidemic Persists During Coronavirus Pandemic

Patrick Sison

Dayton and Columbus are both reporting spikes in overdose deaths. Some experts say it's at least in part because of pandemic-related stress. Ann Stevens with Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services says there's been a 58% increase in fatal OD's compared to a year ago.

"The fact of the matter is we still have an opioid epidemic. We have reduced the deaths from the opioid epidemic dramatically, but we still have an issue," she says.

Stevens says the pandemic and social isolating might be leading to the rise. "People are very traumatized by this quarantine. They are nervous. They are depressed."

Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition member Tom Synan says it's a legitimate concern for people on the path to recovery. "That personal touch is really important with this group of people because it helps inspire them and helps give them support. They know they're not alone."

Synan and Stevens both say local organizations are trying to help anyone feeling traumatized by the pandemic through phone calls and with tele-health visits.

"There's help available. We just want people to know all they have to do is reach out. People are available. The behavioral health providers are working remotely," Stevens says.

Tom Synan says while the Cincinnati area hasn't seen spikes in overdoses like Dayton and Columbus, the opioid crisis continues here.

"What really interdicted on supply was a virus." Synan says it appears there were fewer imports of drugs from China when the coronavirus was raging there. He says now is the time for Ohioans to think ahead on the opioid crisis. "

"Cartels and these distributors are like any other business; They don't like losing money. So I think they'll come roaring back trying to put a big influx of supply on the streets. We should be prepared both from the supply side and from the demand side," he says.

Synan says the United States is very vulnerable right now because the pandemic has strained medical resources.

He says local coalition members are now meeting weekly instead of monthly.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.