Treating addiction during COVID-19

In her experience, Toni Harris, program supervisor for the Greenbriar Treatment Center’s  Washington, Pennsylvania, location, said COVID-19 has affected the opioid epidemic in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

For those with a drug offense who were placed on probation during or shortly before COVID-19 restrictions began, Harris said addicts escaped their requirements of attending forced treatment. Jails, at the beginning of the social distancing requirements, were not accepting inmates.

“Lots of people were getting away with, maybe, being on probation and not having to go to see their probation officer as much, so they can usually get away with it and the probation officer won’t know for a while and wouldn’t put them in jail at that time,” Harris said.

People also escaped treatment because of businesses shutting down, Harris explained. Since jobs were suspended, made remote, or terminated, Harris explained businesses could not or were unaware to pressure their addicted workers to pursue treatment. When stimulus checks came to citizens, Harris added, addicts then had more money and time on their hands from not working.

“All that money, nothing to do and no accountability is a recipe for disaster for addiction,” Harris said.

When it comes to aiding patients in their recovery from crystal meth or heroin, the process is the same, Harris said. How Greenbriar, which serves Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, treats or reacts to patients is not based on what drug they are recovering from.

“We meet everybody where they’re at, but we’re treating addiction, period. So, it doesn’t really necessarily matter what the drug of choice is,” she said.

COVID-19, said Harris, has not affected the Greenbriar center significantly. Center employees wear masks, attendees have certain time to attend meals, are spaced out while eating and spread chairs apart far enough in their group room.

“It’s difficult because it’s residential treatment, and they live here,” Harris said, “but we do the best that we can with that.”

Despite the restrictions, Harris said the center has not had to accept fewer patients into their program.

As for dealing with drug-related calls, Tom Ankrom, Waynesburg Police Chief, said he and his officers now have had new protocols to follow, enacted due to COVID-19. They must wear face masks when encountering others. Their body temperatures must be taken when entering buildings such as prisons and hospitals. They must work around hospitals’ building person capacity limits.

“Inevitably, it’s basically the same. The arrests are made, and it is what it is,” Ankrom said.