Compounding crises: A look at addiction recovery during a pandemic

Updated: Apr. 8, 2020 at 4:50 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For those working through a substance abuse disorder, the onset of the novel coronavirus did not erase their problems.

If anything, Coastal Horizons Center Vice President of Clinical Services Kenny House said, the pandemic will make things worse.

“Anxiety doesn’t go away in a crisis, it gets intensified. Depression the same thing,” he said, “and addiction and mental health concerns and opportunities for relapse versus opportunities for recovery are still there for everybody during this crisis and may be more intensified.”

The underlying causes of addiction can be multi-faceted, but House said mental health plays a significant part.

During a global pandemic where people are being laid off from work and asked to isolate in their homes, he said the risks to those with those underlying situations is heightened.

“Stressors for relapse, stressors for anxiety and depression increasing, all of those things are extremely high-risk,” he said. “So it really puts a burden and a responsibility on healthcare providers to pay attention to those things and offer new ways for people to get assistance when they need it.”

Responding to the crisis and maintaining the needed level of care hasn’t been a simple task.

“This is really something we weren’t expecting in terms of a pandemic, a health crisis, on top of an opioid crisis, along side of escalating rates of depression and suicide and those kinds of things,” House said. “So we really, this is everybody has to be on point in terms of making the services and options available for folks.”

That has meant a fundamental shift in how organizations like Coastal Horizons offer treatment to patients.

House said the lion’s share of their recovery staff are now utilizing telehealth resources and offering tele-therapy sessions for patients. The organization has also re-worked how it handles medication-assisted therapies.

Where they can, House said they are trying to protect the health of patients and staff by utilizing these methods, but he emphasized that in cases where treatment needs to be in-person, it is still available.

“It’s this ongoing balancing act of taking care of people,” he said.

In the case of in-person programs like the Quick Response Team, those efforts are still ongoing, though adjustments and tweaks are being made to ensure the safety of both the patient and staff.

“I think the old school of walking in anytime from the beginning of the morning to the afternoon, that has changed with this crisis, but the response and the availability of us to respond to people has not changed,” he said.

House said that’s a key message they are trying to get across, because the last thing those facing substance abuse disorder need is to feel isolated and like they have no options.

“So we really want people not to feel like, ‘OK I can’t go out, but I’m in trouble, the offices might be closed so therefore there’s no use in getting help.’ We want them to call those numbers, and we have systems in place where we can call people back or give them information on how they connect with us directly. So I think nobody should feel like they shouldn’t call.”

Other recovery resources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have also begun providing services while at a distance by setting up virtual meetings and providing resources to keep people connected online when they can’t meet in person.

House said he hopes the message gets across that recovery is still possible, even during these uncertain times.

“So we need to have that sense of awareness, and we need to encourage people that the systems have not shut down that can care for them, that those systems are still there.”

If you or a loved one are facing a substance abuse-related crisis, here are some resources that may help [If an overdose or alcohol poisoning are suspected, call 911]:

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