Help is available for addicts during the Coronavirus shutdown. That’s the one thing everyone wants to make clear. Addicts and recovering addicts are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we talked about in part 1 of this series, not only does drug use damage your lungs and cause breathing issues, it leaves people in dangerous living situations. Many addicts are anything but safe at home during the shelter in place orders. Even those in recovery face a threat from not being able to attend meetings or have face to face interactions with counselors.
Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis acknowledged the situation, “The risks are higher for them. They really are. And that’s unfortunate.” Davis said he’d actually been discussing the issue earlier in the day.
I spoke with Jay Hash who runs the Hopesource drug and alcohol treatment facility in Portsmouth. He said the Coronavirus shutdown has changed things. “Admissions have slowed down considerably.”
Hash said that many of the people who normally refer addicts to treatment, like probation officers and social workers, are working from home. In some cases that slows the process of getting the right forms filled out. In other cases, they miss signs that someone is struggling that they might be able to detect during an in-person meeting.
He said Hopesource is still open for business but with some changes. “We are still doing full services, almost all of it is not face-to-face. But the drug and alcohol testing must be done in person.”
Hash explained the precautions Hopesource is taking to fight COVID-19. “We’re taking in a patient today. We’re doing all the Coronavirus screening, taking temp and making sure he’s doesn’t have symptoms. Hasn’t traveled. All of that contact has been by phone. He will eventually come in after a significant screening. That’s good. We have other admissions planned.”
Once patients join the program, Hash said almost all counseling is being done via Zoom teleconference.
Yesterday, Ohio’s head of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Lori Criss urged Ohioans with addiction to continue seeking help online. “You can connect with friends and meetings online. They are effective. We urge you to use them. If you have a family member that’s recovering from drug or alcohol, I urge you to reach out to them. These are potentially life-threatening illnesses.”
Hash agrees and says finding help online has never been easier. “A lot of us go to 12-step meetings. I’m part of a private group that had 17 members, we’ve grown from 17 to 417. We’ve tried to incorporate a speaker meeting on Facebook attended by anywhere between 100 and 250 people and recorded so members of the group can view on their own time. The other platform is Zoom. It’s cool, like looking at the Brady Bunch. But if you Google Zoom AA meetings you can find one about any hour on the hour. Just click and your in a 12-step AA or NA meeting. Community Action is also offering online counseling services.
Hash says that there’s actually been a rise in participation in meetings. He thinks that’s because transportation is often an issues for addicts. Especially those that live in rural areas. “The virtual methods may likely stick around.”
Hash says our area may be ahead of the game when it comes to taking care of addicts during the COVID-19. While many experts worry that hospitalize might stigmatize addicts and not prioritize their treatment for Coronavirus, Hash says, “Locally, our hospital are very much on board with recovery and seeing addiciton as a disease.”
He also says that Scioto County EMA helped prepare rehab facilities for the crisis. “They had a meeting with everybody. They had a meeting for providers and heard our feedback. Infectious disease, FEMA, Portsmouth City Health Department. They were all there.”
Hash says SOMC has stayed in regular contact with addiction service providers. “They’re doing a great job. They’ve been very helpful for us in giving us guidance on COVID-19 and what to do.”
Still, he’s worried. “I’m really concerned about the death rates from addiction and property crime. The people who normally interface with people in active addiction aren’t seeing them face-to-face. These medical problems may increase.”