Families broken as pandemic plunges US drug addicts into deeper turmoil

"Covid has taken over" says Beverly Veres, feeling abandoned by health authorities as her two sons battle heroin addiction. In rural Pennsylvania, Beverly and her husband feel the pandemic has taken away precious help to battle the country's opioid epidemic, whilst Savannah Johnson -- a 26-year-old former drug addict -- explains that she risked relapse at the start of 2020.

Video Transcript

BEVERLEY VERES: This is Charles and Douglas.

- We had received a phone call that Doug had been arrested. He had taken the police on a 16 mile police chase.

BEVERLEY VERES: Two weeks later, he got his second DUI.

- Yep, and then he just slowly--

BEVERLEY VERES: And things were just-- at that point--

- --slowly went downhill. If the phone's not ringing, then they're alive. They're not dead and they're not in jail. I mean, I know it sounds bad, but it's the truth.

BEVERLEY VERES: COVID has just taken over. They're not focusing on anything else but COVID. I know in our area, from what we see, to be honest, I don't know if I could pick a friend of my kids, if any of their friends haven't been affected by drugs. The drugs have just come into this area and have taken over. But you know, and it's gotten more, I mean, worse since COVID.

MARCUS PLESCIA: The opioid crisis was the main issue facing us in public health prior to the pandemic. And a lot of the nation's state public health leadership was very, very focused on it and very active in trying to make changes and interventions that would help stem the tide. But since the pandemic has hit, it's been very, very difficult.

- How are you guys?

BEVERLEY VERES: Fine, thank you. How are you? Heard you had a good day today.

- Yes.

- Awesome.

- We were here for both of our boys, Charles and Douglas. As of right now, they are both addicted to heroin. Douglas started off with an opioid habit and it progress to meth, then to heroin. They're both in and out of the system. As of right now, we're not really sure where they're at.

- What are some of the struggles that you guys have had during COVID?

- The loneliness.

- And the depression has started up.

- Yeah and we know that the mental health goes, oftentimes, hand in hand with a substance use disorder. And that can complicate things.

SAVANNAH JOHNSON: She's doing well with-- and Chase is coming along good. That's my daughter. Unfortunately, I was using even after-- I was getting rings under my eyes, because I wasn't sleeping for days. My teeth started going bad. My face started getting sunken. I started a new job and it got hold on pause, you know, because of the COVID thing. So then I had no job. I had to sit at home, you know, you isolate yourself. And both of those things are not, you know, conducive to recovery.

- She had to tell us that she had overdosed. That was the first time. I don't think it was-- This is Chase and this is Elena. And a good friend of mine did that.

SAVANNAH JOHNSON: It was good to be able to come here. And if I wouldn't have come here, I don't really know what I would have done. I don't know if I would have went back out to use. I don't know. But I'm just glad that, being here, I had the support for me to actually want to stay clean.