At the outset of this pandemic, we established a dedicated COVID-19 unit to treat people who had tested positive for the virus, but also needed medical detoxification and clinical stabilization from addiction. Over the summer, the unit enjoyed a brief respite as the number of clients with COVID-19 dwindled down. Now, cases are on the rise again in Massachusetts and our specialized unit is back in action at full capacity to respond to both addiction and the pandemic.
Over the past week, Massachusetts health officials reported an average of 663 new cases of COVID-19 per day, a 20% increase in the daily average from just two weeks ago. The rate of people testing positive has been creeping up since early September, and the numbers are now rivalling those of the previous spring, when health officials were reporting 700 news cases a day. In one week alone the number of Massachusetts communities that were considered high risk has risen from 40 to 63, a designation used by the Department of Public Health when a community experiences more than eight new cases per 100,000 residents over a period of 14 days.
As alarming as these statistics may seem, this resurgence was not unexpected by public health officials. Experts have predicted that as the weather grows colder, more people will be spending time indoors in enclosed spaces where the virus can spread more easily, especially as many people grow weary of public health mandates to socially distance. While there are encouraging developments on the horizon – increased access to testing and hopefully a vaccine – health officials are still preparing for a difficult winter as case numbers rise across the country.
Opioid Epidemic Versus Coronavirus Pandemic
For people with substance use disorders, this pandemic has presented more challenges from the outset. Social distancing is one of the best ways to protect oneself from contracting COVID-19, yet it is also one of the worst things you can impose on someone with a substance use disorder. Isolation is the enemy of addiction and mental health, as our COO Sherry Ellis recently explained to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Without access to a community and a support system, people are much more likely to relapse.
Experts are deeply concerned about the rising numbers of opioid-related deaths in the country, which they believe are linked to the added stressors COVID-19 has put on people who struggle with addiction. When people are feeling lonely, scared of contracting the virus, and perhaps experiencing new financial struggles as a result of the pandemic, they are likely to turn to substance use to relieve that stress. Not only does this put people at risk of overdosing, it also makes them more likely to contract COVID-19, and to have a more serious case of the virus if they do. As a recent study shows, people who have struggled with addiction are more likely to have weakened or damaged lungs or cardiovascular systems, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have not stopped providing addiction treatment services during this pandemic. In June, our subsidiary The New England Recovery Center, saw a 33% increase in admissions as more clients experienced relapses and mental health issues. In response to the overall uptick in clients, and the risk of those clients contracting and spreading the virus, we set up a temporary trailer outside our facilities to screen clients upon admission and prevent the virus from spreading to staff and other clients. We’ve also followed the guidelines of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Massachusetts Department of Public Health for administering take-home medication to qualifying outpatient clients, and expanded our virtual recovery offerings through video and phone meetings between clients and their clinical and medical teams.
All of these measures have remained in place as the virus has ebbed and flowed in Massachusetts and, as soon as it was needed again, our COVID-19 unit went up and running to treat clients with the virus separately from the general population. The unit staff is equipped with personal protective equipment, and clients in the unit receive all of the benefits and treatment options from our continuum of care as clients in the general population.
Admissions at Spectrum are open and available daily, by appointment only. Referrals are processed from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., Monday through Sunday. The eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 unit include:
- Must be 18 years or older. Minors can be admitted with written parental or custodial permission.
- Must be physically dependent on alcohol and/or drugs requiring inpatient medically monitored withdrawal treatment, based on the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) 3.7 criteria.
- Must be in need of clinical stabilization services based on the ASAM 3.5 criteria.
- Must test positive for COVID-19 within the last 30 days and be considered unsafe for placement in a non-COVID facility.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Spectrum Health Systems is open and available to help. Please at 1-877-MyRehab and speak to our staff before arrival. Start your recovery journey today!