It may be too late in the current pandemic of COVID-19, but for future declared emergency health disasters, our lawmakers should make Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings an essential service.

What defines them as a high priority is the fact that they provide physical and mental health tools that help keep addicted people from relapsing. Without meetings, the relapse rate for substance use disorders is between 40 and 60 percent. Addiction can be managed successfully, but AA and NA meetings are central to that management.

I would encourage our administration and lawmakers to re-designate the critical importance of these meetings, that could be held safely and cautiously during a declared emergency. I have to scratch my head when AA and NA meetings are not considered as significant as liquor stores that are thought essential and permitted to operate during a crisis.

Many of the newcomers are ordered by the court to attend, and many are being treated with methadone. Research shows that when treating people addicted to opioid pain relievers or drugs like heroin or fentanyl, medication is the first line of treatment, combined with meetings and counseling.

Because addiction can affect so many aspects of a person's life, recovery should address the needs of the whole person. AA and NA meetings are a fundamental part of that productivity, and that's why making the meetings essential services is vital.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at phil@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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