The other pandemic

The opioid crisis hasn’t gone away, but in Sullivan and Wayne counties, organizations are still open and still helping

Posted 6/17/20

 Staying sober while quarantined isn’t easy, but Sullivan County has people to help

 SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Lockdown has been a challenge for all of us, but for people in …

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The other pandemic

The opioid crisis hasn’t gone away, but in Sullivan and Wayne counties, organizations are still open and still helping


 Staying sober while quarantined isn’t easy, but Sullivan County has people to help

 SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Lockdown has been a challenge for all of us, but for people in recovery, it’s orders of magnitude harder.

Wendy Brown, deputy director of public health for Sullivan County, and Melissa Stickle, the county’s director of community services, have been seeing this first-hand. They jointly discussed the situation in an email, outlining how the county has helped.

“The closures of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been stressful, costly and challenging for many,” they said, “but the restrictions do not affect everyone equally.”

Stable schedules have been upended, getting care is more complicated and the in-person meetings that people rely on haven’t been happening. 

For people struggling with addiction, consistency and structure are vital. They mean one less thing to think about and cope with.

Meetings are available by phone or online and are attended by those who can. For others, not having access means they are “at substantial risk of relapse.”

What can be done for everyone in recovery during this time?

“They need to be busy,” Brown and Stickle said. “They need to have structure, and they need to have a program and work that program pretty much every day. So access to services and supports is vital.”

Sullivan County and local providers have been doing assessments by phone, as well as treatment sessions for individuals and for groups, Brown and Stickle said. Sullivan County Community Services still provides medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Call the information and referral line for help.

Family members have also lost access to meetings. Brown and Stickle say families should contact the local provider or the information and referral line. The county’s Department of Community Services also provides resources and support. Call 845/292-8770.

“It is also extremely important for everyone to remain safe, follow the social distancing guidelines, wash their hands frequently and wear a mask when going out. No one has cornered the market on this infection, we are all vulnerable, but being someone dealing with substance use puts you even more at risk,” they said.

“We know these are challenging times, and no one is sure what the new norm will look like, but supports are available, and we will do our best to be there as needed,” Brown and Stickle concluded. “Please reach out when in need...You are not alone.”

In Wayne County, the Drug and Alcohol Commission is there for you

HONESDALE, PA — The opioid epidemic has not gone away, and neither has people’s paths of recovery, but the way of supporting people has changed.

“We are still open, still putting people into treatment,” said Jim Simpson, certified recovery specialist for the Wayne County Drug & Alcohol (D&A) Commission. “Don’t assume you have to wait till all restrictions are lifted.”

While Simpson, director Jeffrey Zerechak and the D&A staff are concerned for the health of everyone in treatment, Simpson said that those in early recovery are particularly vulnerable. “This is affecting them. They have a week or a month [in treatment] and then this hit.”

Meetings are now on Zoom. Twelve-step programs focus on changing behavior as a participant works through the steps; group members support each other in regularly-scheduled meetings. “It’s a constant working on yourself to keep our physical sobriety and also our emotional and spiritual sobriety,” Simpson said. “Meetings aren’t just for seeing people, it’s about supporting each other.”

The Zoom meetings have been very helpful. But there’s a sense of loss, Simpson said, and people in recovery can’t wait to get back to the familiar, in-person meetings.

Things are slowly improving. Wayne County officially moved to green status on June 12 and is seeing meetings opening up. Churches that host them may be subject to decisions made elsewhere, but “some are opening up,” he said. “We have to follow guidance.”

Family support, such as in Al-Anon groups, has also been limited during the pandemic, Simpson said. And it’s just as critical. “Family members feel powerless, depending on someone else to get treatment.”

There are misconceptions. Family members “think that if their loved one goes to treatment for 28 days it will be all better. And it won’t.”

As a 12-step group pulls together to get someone through the process, so must a family. Programs like Al-Anon let family members learn from the experience of others and help guide people through difficult times. Normally, Wayne Memorial Hospital runs an Al-Anon group, but of course, it has been shut down while the hospital copes with the challenges of COVID-19.

The need for support doesn’t stop during a pandemic, and the stresses of lockdown may have exacerbated the problem. “People are struggling,” Simpson said, “but there are still people picking up the phone.”

The commission, again, is still there, and that matters. “When the community supports your recovery, that makes a lot of difference. They know and we know.”

Director Jeff Zerechak said, “ there is still help available if a person needs treatment or recovery support. We are still serving Wayne County residents as we did prior to the COVID pandemic, but at this point, it is primarily via telehealth. We can still provide assessment and placement in treatment (including Medication Assisted Treatment ) and assist with funding as needed. If you or someone you care about needs help don’t hesitate to call.”

Because it’s so critical.

“Don’t give up hope,” Simpson urged. “There is a better way to live. To get your life back.”


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