COVID-19 is changing the landscape of drug treatment, challenging caregivers and patients – PublicSource


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Update (2/4/20): The state has deemed drug and alcohol treatment centers “essential businesses” and allowed them to continue operating during the coronavirus emergency. Governor Tom Wolf’s office encourages individuals struggling with substance abuse to call a hotline, 1-800-662-HELP, to get in touch with recovery resources.

The number of calls from people seeking help for both alcohol and opioid use disorders has fallen since the advent of the novel coronavirus, but calls from people seeking help for cocaine and methamphetamine abuse have increased, according to Jenn Smith, director of the Department of Drugs – and alcohol programs. She advised people in recovery to use video calling services to keep in touch with family and friends during this difficult time.



The new coronavirus is changing the way providers are treating in Allegheny County and across the country people with drug and alcohol use disorders, especially those taking medications such as methadone and Suboxone to maintain their recovery.

“This is such a tumultuous time for everyone, especially those with substance abuse disorders,” said Daniel Garrighan, facilities director at Jade Wellness Center, an outpatient treatment center with locations on the South Side, Wexford and Monroeville, offering services such as Suboxone, Vivitrol and ReVia.

Those treatments, plus methadone — all commonly referred to as drug therapy or MAT — prevent cravings and help people stay off illicit opioids. Vivitrol and ReVia can also be used for alcohol use disorders. But they are usually provided during regular office visits, sometimes daily in the case of methadone. The corona crisis has made such visits much more difficult, if not impossible.

“We’ve already dealt with our own epidemic with this subset of people with the opiate crisis,” Garrighan said. “We’ve seen such outrageous fatalities in the last 10 years and we’re just starting to get to grips with it and then something like this happens. We have this social responsibility and we don’t want to neglect it [patients] but we also need to take the necessary precautions with the spread of COVID-19.”

After a record 737 overdose deaths in 2017 in Allegheny County, fatal overdoses in the county decreased by more than 40% in 2018.

Some fear that progress may be jeopardized. “What’s happening with the coronavirus right now,” said Lauren Ballew, a harm reduction specialist at Bridge to the Mountains, “limits resources for everyone: for the homeless, for average users, for service providers, and for people taking drugs. for opiate disorders.”

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