Addressing an epidemic during a pandemic: addicts talk about recovery during COVID-19

It seems that nearly all information concerning the impact of coronavirus on addiction treatment has been informed opinion. To provide data and clarity, BrightView reached out to just over 3,000 patients enrolled in treatment for substance use disorder.

Their survey respondents spanned the state of Ohio, including metropolitan, suburban, and rural areas. The primary goals were to find out how best to shift the delivery methods of treatment and to learn how to adjust treatment plans to best serve patients and meet their changing needs.

What the numbers tell us is that the rising concerns of those facing substance use disorder are very similar to the rest of us: access to common goods (55%), paying bills (46%), employment (41%), and childcare/family responsibilities (38%) are ranked as the biggest challenges related to coronavirus.

The largest concern specific to this patient population is transportation, with 30% acknowledging that it has become even more challenging. With restricted ridesharing and limited public transit in response to COVID-19, this finding makes sense.

During these times of physical distancing and added stress around employment concerns, 31% of those in recovery noted that self-care was more difficult, with 20% feeling that coronavirus has made maintaining sobriety more challenging than before. Further, 33% of respondents indicated that coronavirus and the public response to it have negatively impacted their treatment.

These findings seem to be reflected by the recent spikes in overdoses in many counties throughout the state. Access to medications like buprenorphine and naltrexone can be hindered by restricted transportation and lack of childcare.

There is a bright side, though. Relaxing some of the regulatory restrictions in Ohio to improve access to telehealth and remote treatment for those facing substance use disorder during this pandemic is paying off. Twenty-two percent of respondents confirmed that access to treatment is actually easier now than before the pandemic, while 32% noticed no real change in accessibility.

However, as treatment providers we still have more work to do to improve availability of care, as more than 46% of those surveyed indicated that receiving treatment for substance use disorder is now more difficult due to these societal changes. Responding to this, many providers, BrightView included, are expanding telehealth and virtual services, and providing additional case management and social support services for patients.

At BrightView and many evidence-based treatment providers throughout the state, we strive to understand these concerns and new challenges and respond accordingly. We are expanding our telehealth offering, providing group therapy, peer support, case management, and individual counseling virtually using two-way video conferencing. This expansion of services has made effective treatment for substance use disorder more accessible than ever before. Common barriers like transportation, childcare, and social commitments (work, school) have been dramatically reduced thanks to advances in telehealth and relaxed regulations. It is now possible to effectively recover from addiction without leaving your apartment or house.

Coronavirus has negatively affected many people in recovery, but it has also provided an opportunity to reduce barriers and provide services to many who may not have engaged otherwise. It is challenging to address an epidemic during a pandemic, but the number of patients who are staying engaged and continuing on their journeys of recovery is encouraging. Together we can overcome COVID-19 and substance use disorder.

Colin Jeffries is BrightView's director of marketing. 

Over the next few weeks, Soapbox will share work from community members and business owners regarding their thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a story you’d like to share? Email [email protected] for consideration in an upcoming issue.

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