Critics warn coronavirus rules could mean sharp spike in addiction relapses and overdoses
Oregonians with an alcohol addiction face a double-barreled set of challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.
People battling addiction are stuck at home while the state gives them easier access to alcohol, allowing restaurants and bars to deliver sealed bottles of beer, wine or cider to homes until 2:30 a.m. Meanwhile, recovery group meetings for people with substance use disorders have been canceled or shifted to online conferences and telephone calls.
Some people are bound to slip through the cracks.
"Giving people alcohol is the opposite of what you want to do in a crisis situation."
Oregon has the third-highest drug and alcohol addiction rate in the country, according to a 2019 survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Nearly 10% of Oregon teens and adults have a substance use disorder. The national average is 7.3%.
State lawmakers and advocates say the Oregon Liquor Control Commission left public health out of the equation when alcohol regulations were loosened to allow expanded delivery hours during the pandemic. They have concerns that the situation will worsen the state's addiction crisis when vulnerable people have reduced access to treatment services.
Gov. Kate Brown shut down restaurants and bars to halt the spread of the respiratory disease, unless they offer carryout or delivery service. Now, no one can drink in an Oregon bar.
The commission on March 19 passed a series of changes that allow bars and restaurants to sell sealed drinks to people parked within 100 feet of the establishment. Existing regulations for delivering beer, wine and cider were loosened. The commission also put a streamlined process in place for bars and restaurants to get state approval for deliveries. The state also extended hours for deliveries to 2:30 a.m. Before the change, deliveries ended by 9 p.m.
"Giving people alcohol is the opposite of what you want to do in a crisis situation," said Mike Marshall, executive director of Oregon Recovers, an advocacy group for people recovering from addictions.
Advocates say the changes are at odds with the state's public health interests.
"While our public health officials are figuring out innovative ways to keep people out of emergency rooms, the other side of the organization is trying to figure out how to increase revenues," Marshall said.
Marshall said the group doesn't want the state to shut down establishments and put the industry out of business. However, it's a bad move to expand home deliveries in a crisis situation with a high demand for emergency room beds, he said.
"Those increased alcohol sales are going to exponentially increase negative impacts on the public health system," he said.
This Lund Report story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.
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