‘Addiction and mental illness don’t go away:’ Organizations help vulnerable people during COVID-19

Social isolation can be especially difficult for people struggling with mental health and addiction. In Cincinnati, two organizations have rapidly changed their business model to help.

BrightView (which operates statewide) delivers treatment to individuals who are impacted by substance use disorder, and PreventionFIRST! started in 1996 as a comprehensive effort to address youth substance abuse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made these organizations modify their treatment, with caring for their patients and constituents still at the forefront.

BrightView provides medication assisted treatment (MAT), group and individual therapy, and connection to vital social services. Their method ensures that patients are treated through physical, social, and psychological efforts. Treatment continues at all locations, throughout the crisis, with telehealth, telecounseling, and virtual groups available.

PreventionFIRST! reaches young people by partnering with community sectors that influence them such as schools; state, county, and city governments; businesses; alcohol, tobacco, and other drug organizations; faith-based organizations; parents; media; law enforcement; and health care professionals.

Teens who abuse drugs experience lower grades, higher absenteeism, and a greater chance of dropping out of school. PreventionFIRST! says that it all starts with prevention: “We are the driving force behind effective drug prevention in our region and continue to make progress on a daily basis,” says Nicole Schiesler, CEO.

PreventionFIRST! is currently unable to serve the community in person. They have developed online training and provide assistance over the phone, as well as conducting meetings over Go To Meetings and recording webinars through Go To Webinars.

“We are here, more than ever, to provide prevention resources to the community via phone, email, and social media," Schiesler says.

Addiction and mental illness don’t go away in the midst of a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak. This new pandemic can actually make our addiction epidemic worse for people,” says Dr. Navdeep Kang, the chief clinical officer at BrightView. “That’s why I’m proud that the BrightView team has gone above and beyond to make sure that our patients are physically and emotionally cared for no matter what else is going on in the world. In just a few days, we have started leveraging telehealth and virtual interactions like never before, at a time when folks need it most.

“Mandated isolation, business closings, fear-inducing news, lack of transportation — all these new realities are triggers for anxiety and depression — and for relapse,” he continues. “This means that, now more than ever, it is critical for patients to be able to connect with their medical and counseling teams as often as needed. Through technology, we are making ourselves available for one-to-one in-person sessions as often as our patients need us. The team at BrightView is committed to doing everything we can to make sure that people who use drugs have somewhere to turn for healing and hope during this challenging time.”

BrightView is working closely with the State of Ohio to ensure that that they can provide services to patients without unnecessary risk of exposure or gatherings of more than ten people. BrightView’s Dr. Shawn Ryan, president and chief medical officer, is following Governor Mike DeWine’s recommendations, and is currently a council member of RecoveryOhio.

PreventionFIRST! suggests that individuals fill days with positive actions that benefit themselves, their family, and their community while remaining safely distanced. Research shows that the more connected young people are to their community and family, the less likely they are to engage in unhealthy, risky behaviors.

For more information, visit the PreventionFIRST! website or BrightViewHealth.com, or call BrightView’s hotline at 833-510-HELP (4357). For individuals who would like to order Narcan through the Ohio Department of Health, click here.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jennifer Mooney.

Jennifer Mooney is a reformed corporate communications senior executive. She has also worked in the advertising industry and founded The Mooney Group, LLC, a boutique public relations practice. She is an avid adventurer and traveler, which includes climbing/hiking, open water swimming, and downhill skiing. She is a downtown resident and is married to Donald Mooney. She has two grown daughters.