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'It's That Much Harder': How Substance Use Treatment Adapted To A Pandemic

A bottle of white pills spilled over a table.
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With an opioid addiction crisis that shows no sign of abating, how we describe addiction and dependence matters.

The need for substance use treatment didn’t go away when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Organizations in North Texas had to get creative this year to make sure there is help for people who want it.

Alicia Peoples is the director of development and public relations for the Recovery Resource Council, a group that offers mental and behavioral health resources across 20 North Texas counties.

She said demand was already rising before the pandemic, and COVID-19 intensified the need.

"I don't think there's anyone that has not been impacted. So with everyone being impacted, if, you know, if you were already struggling, then it's that much harder,” she said.

Like everything else in the world, the Council’s programs went online when COVID hit. MHMR of Tarrant County had to do the same with its outpatient treatment and recovery meetings, but their residential detox and treatment centers can't just go virtual.

Dee Browne is MHMR’s senior director of substance use services. She said MHMR had to develop a robust testing system. People get a COVID-19 test the day they’re admitted to a center, and they’re isolated while they wait for results, which usually takes 24 hours.

“Not all the treatment centers have tried to do this. They would just kind of keep filling up their beds, and then they would have an outbreak and then they’d have to shut down, and it was really important to me to not shut down during all of this,” Browne said.

What they're missing, though, is good old human contact.

"There was a lot of hugging going on before, even in street outreach. That's what people wanted, and now nobody can hug anybody. So that's been hard for us,” Browne said. “We’re huggy people.”

Both organizations often work with people who don't have homes or internet access. The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition made sure some people got donated smartphones at the beginning of the pandemic, Browne said.

The Recovery Resource Council opened up safe rooms with computers, so people can go to their virtual appointments.

MHMR has seen a lull lately, but Browne said that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the pandemic.

"Nobody wants to come to treatment during the holidays," she said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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