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A Rush to Treat | Millions Struggle to Stay Sober During Covid-19 Pandemic

When so much of the foundation of sobriety is built upon community, the new isolation and  #stayhome agenda is hitting some of our most vulnerable the hardest.

Addiction, a disease that lives in isolation and in its ability to disconnect its sufferers from the people who care about them can take an easy hold when there is little to no stability in routine or environment.

The sober community is hurting.

Covid-19 and The Sober Community

The shock waves of the Covid-19 pandemic are hitting every strata of the sober communities, from people who rely on 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to those who go to clinics to receive doses of addiction treatment medication, to people living on the street who rely on community aid workers for clean syringes.

Following 2018’s record number of opioid overdoses, 2019 was a better year. The average number of opioid overdoses fell and were continuing to fall. Now, many healthcare providers and workers are worried about the setbacks that Covid-19 will cause.

“The disruptions that the pandemic is causing can really risk devastating the gains we’ve made in addressing the opioid epidemic,” Dr. David Fiellin, an addiction medicine expert at the Yale School of Medicine told the NY Times. “For some patients, we worry about them going back to what is familiar — using is their coping strategy. For others, we worry about disruptions in ongoing access to their addiction treatment medications.”

A Change in Treatment 

Treatment providers, support networks and even the federal government have begun to act. Last week, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued new regulations and guidelines. They will now allow clinics to dispense extended quantities of the addiction treatment medications methadone and buprenorphine to patients whom providers deem stable, so they will not have to visit clinics daily. Regulations now also permit some medical assessments to be done by phone. Treatment centers and mental health providers are still taking patients but have rushed to utilize Telemedicine to run their normal in-person sessions and groups.

Experts note that drug courts will need to adjust procedures too: Thousands of people are under orders to attend meetings and submit to regular urine screens, or risk incarceration. As of right now, that can’t happen.

Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, which had online meetings and phone counseling available for years, are urging local chapters to use those tools immediately. New apps such as Zoom, are helping people stay connected and sober with meditations, peer support and counseling.

Addicted During Covid-19

But the disease of addiction thrives in a time like this. Boredom, isolation, and the need to rely on only yourself can make staying sober seem impossible. For many struggling with addiction the order to stay apart has thrown them back into the basements of loneliness where their addictions took root.

Which is dangerous, especially for those who relapse or are currently using a substance with a life threatening withdrawal process.

For example, alcohol.

Some worry as business closures roll through the country that liquor stores will close too. And with liquor stores closing they will have to withdraw cold turkey and plunge into delirium tremens — or the “DTs,” with hallucinations, vomiting, fever and high blood pressure. And then they fear they won’t be admitted into overcrowded emergency departments. Or will be exposed to Covid-19 in those waiting rooms. Which is why some states have included liquor stores on the roster of essential businesses that can remain open, out of concern for those with substance use disorders — and also to prevent a black market for alcohol sales.

Getting Back to Normal

While the pandemic doesn’t seem to be nearing an end anytime soon, there are some positives that have come out of the self-isolation. Speaking with those in recovery within our area, some have said they have been able to make more sober meetings these past two weeks than they normally would, as well as, attend special meetings out of their area or even out of state because they are online. There is also the added bonus for many health providers of seeing the way their clients live at home through Telemedicine. Dr. Anna Lembke, who sees patients at Stanford’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, told the NY Times she was able to get a better gauge on her patients, seeing their homes and environments. She even told one to “pick up their room.”

Most addiction treatment providers are remaining open. So while those struggling with alcohol and addiction may not want to go to the ER, the sober community is still here and willing to help. The support is still available to those that want it.

Their doors are open and will always remain open to those needing to find a new way of life.

 

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/health/coronavirus-alcoholics-drugs-online.html

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