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I-TEAM: Budget cuts threaten addiction aid when it's needed most

 The state legislature in Georgia is working to pass a 2021 budget, with $3 to 4 billion to cut due to the pandemic shortfall. (Source: WRDW)
The state legislature in Georgia is working to pass a 2021 budget, with $3 to 4 billion to cut due to the pandemic shortfall. (Source: WRDW) (WRDW)
Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 4:39 PM EDT
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Monday, June 15, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The shutdown and economic fallout from COVID-19 has led to sweeping budget cuts of services, services to help with addiction included. And experts say they are needed more than ever.

The fallout from COVID-19 is threatening even more lives.

finds addicts are struggling like never before with sobriety, as they’re stuck in isolation with mounting stress and anxiety from the pandemic.

The I-TEAM uncovered $4 million could soon be axed from critical state resources.

"I am fighting my sobriety right now," said Melissa Barnes.

as she and her boyfriend were facing eviction from the COVID-19 crisis. He'd lost his job, and his mother days later, who paid for the house while Melissa focused on recovery.

"I feel like the harder I try the worse things get,” Barnes said.

How long has she been addicted to opioids?

"20 years,” she said.

She'd just finished inpatient rehab before the shutdown, and she's been sober for about 100 days.

What's it like being an addict during a pandemic?

"It's rough. I've had points when I just wanted to give up and go do it,” Barnes said.

Her struggle is something Christian Frazier witnesses every day. He's the executive director of Focus on Recovery Augusta.

"It's a worst-case scenario type of deal,” Frazier said. “This impacts our low-income population so desperately. This particular portion of the community relies so heavily upon these state-funded services.”

But the I-TEAM found there will soon be fewer recovery resources in Georgia -- far, far less. The state legislature in Georgia is working to pass a 2021 budget, with $3 to 4 billion to cut due to the pandemic shortfall.

The I-TEAM combed through the proposed changes and found $4 million could be axed from abuse recovery centers. Inpatient and outpatient services across the state could be eliminated.

Hope House Augusta, a local resource for 28 years will also be impacted. It told the I-TEAM:

"These state budget cuts translate to Hope House serving less families due to unprepared staff layoffs, diminished community resources, and less money to be able to house our women and children."

Our I-TEAM also

have signed an online petition through Change.org to not cut addiction and mental health resources in Georgia, writing: "If the proposed state budget cuts pass, the state will pay for it ten-fold on the back end of COVID-19 and there will certainly be casualties along the way.

Will people die if these services go away?

"100%. People are already dying. I've given out more Narcan for overdose reversals this past two months then I did all last year,” Frazier said.

Let that sink in -- more Narcan to save addicts from overdoses in just two months than all of 2019.

“We have to do whatever it takes to stop this. We matter, we are important. People who haven’t found recovery yet are important,” Frazier said.

People like Barnes, who have lost income, possibly their housing, and struggling not to lose their sobriety, are too important.

How is Barnes handling not using?

"It's hard. It's hard,” she said. "I want to be a role model for my daughter and say look you can do anything"."

Lawmakers

The deadline is July 1.

Copyright WRDW/WAGT 2020. All rights reserved.

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