Coronavirus response takes toll on addiction rehabilitation

May 22, 2020

Health authorities and organizations have recently expressed their growing concerns regarding the effects of social distancing and restrictions on addiction recovery during the coronavirus outbreak across North America. As usual routines become disrupted for individuals battling addiction, the COVID-19 pandemic could pose significant obstacles to recovery and limit their access to essential services and programs.

In her interview with CBS News, Allegra Schorr, president of the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Providers and Advocates of New York State (COMPA), said it is necessary to achieve the right balance between reducing the spread of coronavirus and overdose risk for patients.

“We’re like a frontline. We have to be able to keep our patients out of the hospital. We have to get that balance right. If they overdose, then they’re going to be in the hospital taking up those resources. They could be in the emergency rooms. We have the potential of crashing the hospital system. We have to make sure that does not happen.”

Allegra Schorr, President of the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates of New York State

Health experts warn that individuals recovering from addiction have an increased risk of relapse during the coronavirus pandemic due to social isolation. Due to restrictions on social gatherings, it is not possible for them to participate in in-person support groups and meet with their sponsors. Moreover, increasing numbers of addiction workers have been getting laid off, leaving individuals dealing with addiction isolated and on their own.

Andrea St Clair, a mental health and substance use disorder professional working at an outpatient program in Seattle, has expressed her concerns for the well-being of her clients during her interview with The Guardian. “I think it’s definitely a time where people are subject to having more thoughts, more triggers, more urges,” she said.

It is not clear whether telehealth and online recovery programs and resources could be as effective as in-person contact for addiction recovery. According to St Clair, even if individuals struggling with addiction problems seek care or support, some of them may be distracted by having additional screens in view, diverting their attention from the virtual group meeting.

While the majority of recovery centers remain open for MAT pick-ups and patient onboarding, many other non-clinical centers and syringe exchange programs have closed due to the current pandemic. Additionally, some residential programs have stopped accepting new patients.