Drug Rehabs Help Battle Coronavirus Pandemic While Still Facing The Opioid Crisis

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Hospital-based drug rehab beds are now being used to treat coronavirus patients. (Getty Images)

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has not been lost on Long Island’s addiction and recovery community, which has banded together to support each other during social isolation, job loss, and less access to treatment and support. 

At the direction of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (NYS OASAS) several hospital-based treatment programs turned their detox and rehabilitation beds into beds for COVID-19 patients. To protect health and safety, most outpatient counseling providers are no longer holding face-to-face counseling sessions and self-help groups were forced to temporarily close their doors.

“For people in the grips of active addictions, usage escalated,” says Anthony Rizzuto, LMSW, CASAC and director of provider relations at Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach. “We were seeing more overdoses, more people trying to get into treatment, and the availability of treatment beds lessened. In the world of recovery, a lot of people find comfort and solace with fellowship and meetings. Those had been taken away as well.”

The remaining residential treatment programs, such as Seafield Center, continued to accommodate patients with social distancing protocol. Its substance abuse counselors continued to risk their own safety and that of their families to provide these crucial services. Others at Seafield’s outpatient centers continued to counsel patients via telehealth.

“If you don’t have a place to send people who are struggling with substance use disorder, if they remain active, you will have overdoses, car accidents, and hospital and emergency room admissions to add to an already overburdened hospital system,” Rizzuto says.

Recovery-centered groups did their part when support group meetings were closed. Several members of the self-help groups Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous set up online meetings and “speaker jams” to let people know that help and support were a few clicks away.  

“It was very important to me to help get the online meetings set up because I know how we as a community need each other,” says Jillian R., a person in long-term recovery. “I, with the help of others, wanted to make sure everyone had somewhere to go when they needed to get things off their chest.”

The Garrett L Kassler Memorial Fund, started by Lee and Lisa Kassler of Plainview in memory of their 26-year-old son who died from a fentanyl overdose in 2017, is offering financial help through donations collected, to assist those struggling with substance use disorder find access to inpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment, or sober living. 

“The incredible amount of stress and additional anxiety that they are facing makes it even more important for them and their families to know there is additional help available for them,” the couple says.

Bikers Against Heroin, a volunteer organization of bikers and non-riders alike, donated $1,000 for items such as food and toiletries for five Long Island sober homes whose residents were out of work due to the COVID-19 shutdown. 

“During this pandemic we realized that many in recovery who already face financial difficulties would feel the pressure even further,” says Lisa Goodfield, the group’s president. 

Jamie Bogenshutz, licensed clinical social worker and executive director of YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa and Levittown, said the outpatient counseling center’s efforts went fully remote. 

“We were able to connect with those people who were connected to our agency, and even continue to admit new people who may have been looking for help and support during the [uncertain] time,” she says. “Technology made it possible for us to conduct our groups in an effort to ease the tremendous sense of loneliness and isolation.”

Speaking for her colleagues in the industry, Bogenshutz added: “We are a strong, dedicated, and very committed field with staff who will do whatever it takes to stay alongside those in need.”

Editor’s note: Eden Laikin is a full-time counselor at Seafield Center, and is on the board of the Garrett L Kassler Memorial Fund.

Related Story: THRIVE, A Long Island Recovery Community, Marks Milestone

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