Rising unemployment, increased isolation are huge barriers to substance use disorder recovery, says Volunteers of America President/CEO

Recovery is always a difficult process. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things even harder on many individuals and organizations trying to help across the Commonwealth.

Volunteers of America of Kentucky President and CEO Jennifer Hancock says important work is being done during this time to ensure the health and safety of those struggling in a recent interview with The Bottom Line, where she also outlined key factors in helping people get in recovery programs and stay in those programs during a pandemic.

Recent data shows that for every one percentage point the unemployment rate rises, the drug overdose death rate increases by 3.6 percent. These troubling statistics are even more real, as Kentucky’s unemployment rate skyrocketed from 5.3 percent in March to a whopping 16.2 percent in April as a result of the pandemic, leaving many residents feeling alone and facing even more struggles. The most recent numbers from September show the state unemployment rate has gradually decreased since April to 5.6 percent, but still show there were some 117,000 fewer jobs available to Kentuckians in September 2020 than in September 2019.

“The isolating effects of COVID is really such a key trigger for relapse. So as people are leaving the workforce and they are really isolated in their own homes and vulnerable to returning to use, we see the consequences of that. We also know that it is challenging for people to consider coming into a residential program when there is risk around being in a residential setting with other people so we have really been marketing our programs as a really safe alternative. It is much safer to risk coming to treatment and dealing with the potential response versus being out of treatment and dealing with potential overdose,” Hancock said, noting they have seen virtually no positive tests at their facilities and when they have, they did not see a spread because of an immediate response.

Hancock said employment is such a key component of long-term recovery that anyone who receives treatment at a Volunteers of America facility has employment goals as part of their treatment plan and individuals leave with a job secured and return to work or a plan to pursue additional education.

As for other services VOA is providing, Hancock discussed their facilities where mothers going through treatment can have their children with them as well as a strong emphasis on juvenile justice reforms as evidence continues to suggest that early intervention is critical.

Watch the full interview with Jennifer Hancock to learn more about the services VOA provides, how the recovery community can make up ground following the pandemic, and what must come next here:

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