A Physician’s View

Substance Abuse Treatment in the Time of Corona

The coronavirus pandemic has turned much of society upside down, and those with substance/alcohol use disorders (SUD/AUD) are embedded in the chaos that has resulted. Central to treatment for addictions is reconnecting people with individuals and groups that provide positive reinforcement supporting durable recovery. This includes family, friends, peer support groups, and other social structures. Unfortunately, precautions to prevent the spread of covid-19 push people into social isolation cutting them off from those who would otherwise offer invaluable support. When individuals are under “social isolation,” especially in a dysfunctional family unit, stress levels increase and for those who deal with such stress by self-medication, the tendency to use drugs or to use more drugs (relapse or overdose) increases. This is what was observed in the first spike of covid-19 illness in the spring (especially April-May in the mid-South) and what seems to be happening now in a second spike in covid-related illnesses.

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Early Treatment Results

Our team is tracking the results of patients with addiction to improve the quality of care for patients across the MidSouth. This is “Real live data” about the impact of our treatment plans on our patient’s lives.

We collected data in several different areas: 

  • Health – visits to the emergency room or hospitalizations
  • Retention in Treatment – time in treatment, attendance at scheduled treatment visits, urinary drug testing results, and relapses
  • Education/Workforce Participation – participation in an educational program or securing a stable job
  • Contact with the Criminal Justice System – arrests, incarceration, court appearances, or legal issues
  • Social Stability with family and friends

A scoring system was developed based on the above outcomes and patients were placed in three groups: 

  • No Change
  • Mild-Moderate Positive Change
  • Exceptional Positive Change

We have divided the patients that work with our case manager into two groups: 

  1. Compliant Patient Group – those who come regularly to appointments and consider/act on the suggestions they receive.
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