Changing with the times
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of how our society operates. These changes are focused around maintaining the activities of our daily lives while simultaneously flattening the curve of the virus. One of the most popular coping mechanism has been the integration of video chat and call services. Becoming more and more standard is the utilization of these services in the health care industry.
It makes sense, as many appointments do not require face to face communication with a physician. But this new operating basis in creating a problematic situation for those in addiction recovery. Most notably for those at the beginning stages of their sobriety.
Importance of aftercare
Aftercare in rehabilitation is hands down the most crucial part of the process. This is the time when individuals are on their own. No longer in a controlled environment, recently released patients are tasked with putting everything they learned in their treatment program into use. Something that is much easier said than done.
As a former professional at a drug and rehabilitation, I can recall countless instances of individuals who struggled with this transition. It was not uncommon to receive calls from concerned parents and loved ones within days of an individual’s program completion stating the person had relapsed.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, but one of the biggest reasons for this outcome was that the individual did not follow through with their aftercare plan. The transition back to the “real world” after rehab needs to be taken on a gradient. That is why the majority of post-treatment exit plans consist of face to face meetings with counselors or other professionals to ensure the individual is handling the switch successfully—emphasis on face to face.
Importance of face to face
The reason for this is that there are certain aspects of adequately assessing an individual that can only be done when they are actually in front of you. Perhaps video calls provide a better litmus test than a phone call, but it still does not offer the best opportunity to assess the patient truly. It’s not that it is impossible to get an accurate evaluation from a distance, but it is more complicated. This inability to accurately assess someone does not only put the individual at risk but depending on the type of treatment they are receiving, it could put them at risk of overdose and death.
COVID-19’s effect on restrictions
One of the more popular treatment methods for substance abuse is the use of maintenance drugs. This controversial treatment involves putting individuals on a prescription version of their drug of choice. The two most popular of these drugs are methadone and suboxone. Both of these drugs carry the risk of overdose and death. While many view them as dangerous, the only thing that made them palatable was the intense restriction put on them. Unfortunately, new policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 have drastically reduced these restrictions.
Individuals who were once required to meet with a counselor daily to receive medication are now being given a month’s supply. They are being allowed to fill them after a phone call or a video chat. This access presents a risk to anyone in recovery, but this danger is heightened for individuals just starting their recovery. The same stressors that make early recovery so hard might be the same factors that cause an individual to abuse the drug that is supposed to be keeping them “sober.” Given how powerful these drugs are, it puts an already vulnerably individual in a dangerous situation.
Reactions and future implications
An even more significant concern is that some are celebrating these practices. There has been a call to loosen restrictions on maintenance drugs for quite some time to no avail. Some people credit COVID-19 with forcing the industry to make these changes and hope they will remain intact even after this pandemic is under control. Knowing what we know about addiction recovery, this may do more harm than good.
Regardless of your stance on using these medications, it’s not a stretch to believe that increased access to them may prove to be catastrophic. It is important to note that many individuals who suffer from substance abuse misused medication in the first place. Giving individuals access to large amounts of narcotics right after putting in time and money to reverse their cycle of addiction is counterproductive and dangerous.