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Loneliness in coronavirus lockdown a risk, as overdose deaths rise in Snohomish County

Support groups say that some in recovery are struggling with the lack of physical meetings, even as support groups have moved to Zoom and Facebook.

EVERETT, Wash — It was the day before Mother's Day.

Trisha — we're not using her last name — hadn't heard from her sister Jessica for a while, so she sent her dad next door to check on her.

"I just heard him screaming, so I ran over there thinking i could save her and she was already gone," said Trisha, wiping away tears. "I didn't want to believe it. It was so unexpected."

Jessica died of a fentanyl overdose.

The mother of one was just 30 years old.

Jessica had spent five years clean, regularly attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

When the coronavirus lockdown took hold, however, that lifeline disappeared.

Local organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous have had to cancel in-person support group meetings, after small group meetings were banned by the state stay-home order in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Groups have moved their meetings online, but that hasn't been a good fit for everyone in recovery.

Trisha says her sister was a "social butterfly" and desperately missed the fellowship the in-person meetings provided.

Without them, an old, familiar adversary emerged to fill the void.

"She had no way to go to meetings and get that support through the fellowship," says Trisha. "She got really depressed because of being lonely and not being able to be out there like she normally was."

Since the coronavirus lock down hit Snohomish County overdose deaths for the month of April more than doubled from 11 in 2019 to 24 confirmed or probable episodes this year. The latest numbers provided by the Medical Examiner's office for May show 14 in 2019. There are already 15 this year with 11 more days to go.

Narcotics Anonymous member Devon said the close, often physical connections built at NA meetings are critical.

"What we talk about in NA is that hug," he said. "That's how we breathe life into each other. Physically being there for someone is very important. It's a big part of how we bring about healing."

Unable to meet in their traditional church basements or community centers, NA meetings have migrated to Facebook or Zoom.

Members have been passing out fliers in emergency rooms with Zoom tutorials and phone numbers.

Credit: KING
Members of Narcotics Anonymous in Seattle have fliers with information on how to join Zoom and Facebook meetings, in lieu of in-person support groups.

The virtual meetings seem to be working for some. "Michelle" is now 10 days sober.

She usually drank after work and found working at home during the "stay at home" order blurred those lines into a dangerous haze.

She has been attending NA meetings online and says while they're not ideal, they do have an upside.

"You don't have to get dressed and convince yourself to drive somewhere and go make a certain time. You can literally go on the websites and there are all these links up there all day long. I actually went to meeting in London."

As for Trisha, she pleads with people struggling during coronavirus to not succumb to the disease of addiction. 

"I know there are a lot of people out there barely hanging on," she said. "But recovery is possible. It isn't as easy right now as it usually is but reach out. Get invited to some Zoom meetings and just please hang on."

RELATED: People in addiction recovery feel isolated without support groups

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VIEW | CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE ON KING 5