Loss of Rural Appalachian Recovery Meetings From Before to After COVID-19

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Sharp rises in overdose deaths nationally coincided with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural Appalachia, known for high rates of substance use and barriers to health care in general, was suspected to be disproportionately impacted in terms of recovery supports such as 12-step recovery meetings. This study investigated the availability of recovery meetings in South Central Appalachia before and after COVID-19 lockdowns. The number of confirmed recovery meetings was compared before and after COVID-19 lockdowns by geographic location (i.e., rural/nonrural and medium metro/small metro/micropolitan/noncore). Recovery meeting data were systematically collected through interviews with community contacts, reviewing social media and websites, making phone calls, and sending emails and surveys and updated longitudinally. There was no significant change in the number of meetings from pre- (n = 189) to post-COVID-19 (n = 178). There was no significant shift in meeting location when dichotomizing by rural/nonrural classification, χ²(1) = 2.76, p = .097, π = −0.087. Chi-square test of independence did reveal a significant change in number of recovery meetings by location when using four location classifications, χ²(3) = 7.97, p = .047, Cramer’s V = 0.147. There was a noteworthy rise in the meetings in small metro (36.5%–51.1%), with all other locations declining. The establishment and reestablishment of recovery meetings in rural communities should be prioritized to address the longstanding scarcity of recovery resources in rural locations, recent decline in such support, and the rise in overdose deaths.