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Services not slowed by shutdown

GLEN DALE — A separate health crisis rising up hasn’t negated the continual need for substance abuse rehabilitation services in the Ohio Valley, and providers continue to serve those in need of help.

At WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital, the BreakThru medical managed withdrawal program continues to help those suffering from substance abuse syndrome get their foot in the door.

BreakThru serves as a first step for addressing withdrawal and getting patients in touch with rehabilitation services.

BreakThru care coordinator Martha Polinsky said that the rise in COVID-19 concerns seems to have discouraged new patients from coming in, but that the need hasn’t diminished.

She said that BreakThru saw about 15 to 20 patients each month, but since the stay-at-home order last month, that number has dropped off.

“Ever since the coronavirus, nobody’s really calling — everybody’s calls dropped off. People just don’t know what to do,” she said.

“… Addiction doesn’t stop just because there’s a global pandemic, and … there’s probably a lot more substance abuse happening right now, with people at home. People whose substance abuse problems might come to a head, and they’ll be like, ‘Whoa, I’m ready now,’ or ‘I want to go to treatment, but (there’s a) pandemic, and I’m afraid.’ There’s a lot of people out there still struggling with substance abuse. Those things are still happening, and day-to-day you’ll never know when somebody’s ready.”

Polinsky said she’s a member of a social media group for those in recovery, so she sees daily dozens of people tracking their progress, which still continues each day despite the shutdown.

“There’s people struggling with the fact that they can’t go to their meetings, they’re very isolated, that sort of thing,” she added.

BreakThru continues to offer its services, though initial contact is now done over the phone, where potential clients are screened and appointments are made. Once accepted, BreakThru helps those suffering from addiction combat their symptoms with medicine, as well as lowering their risk of abusing again in the immediate future, such as by administering Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist which prevents the effects of opiates, discouraging their use. They also work to prevent complications as a result of withdrawal.

From there, BreakThru assists patients in finding long-term care solutions through outpatient programs such as counseling and treatment, to residential inpatient treatment programs. Recently, Polinsky said, more emphasis has been placed on outpatient programs. State orders to require a 14-day waiting period before admittance to a residential treatment program had recently been lifted, but some programs will require a waiting period to ensure the protection of those already there, she said.

“We’re the thing you call in the very beginning if you’re having withdrawal symptoms, and a lot of people can’t get through that, so they use again,” she said. “We’re there to help them get through that part. … We don’t just deal with traditional types of addiction. We also deal with dependence, like pill dependence. We have a lot of folks who are dependent on different opiates like benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax)…”

“Regardless of whether they are able to enter residential treatment, the biggest thing is that this doesn’t stop because there’s a global pandemic. Addiction and withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. We want to be there for our population.”

BreakThru can be reached at 304-221-4528 Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Patients must have insurance, either privately or through WV Medicaid or Medicare.

Across the state, the HELP4WV addiction hotline remains open to provide round-the-clock assistance to those suffering from substance abuse. In a release, director Brittany Shawver said that she has seen little difference in the need for help, as measured by call volume. The line averages over 900 requests for help per month.

“We think call volume may increase as this continues, because unemployment, depression, and loneliness are all risk factors for addiction. We especially worry about overdoses increasing now that people are spending more time alone, and there may be no one else present to administer Narcan or call for help,” Shawver said.

Shawver said that, so far, most addiction treatment programs are staying open, though some have altered their admission criteria and all are taking extra precautions. She said that most outpatient programs are offering telehealth options, and that private insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, are covering it. There are also many online support groups, meetings and recovery apps that her staff are sharing with callers.

Those who want to be connected to a peer coach or learn about other treatment options can call the helpline 24/7 at 1-844-HELP-4WV, or chat online at Help4WV.com.

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