New Hampshire overdose rates have hit a state high at 30 percent above March 2019, a year before the pandemic hit, according to Michele Merritt, the president and CEO at New Futures, a nonprofit that deals with addiction.
Merritt spoke alongside substance and mental health disorder experts from across the state in a Zoom video conference call with Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, about the issues recovery communities are facing.
The state experts say that overdose rates could be attributed to increased anxiety regarding jobs, food, and housing insecurity. For many, a lack of technology has made it difficult to participate in both Telehealth video conferences and phone calls to meet with recovery coaches.
There has to be a balance of necessities in order to ensure a healthy and positive recovery moving forward, said Nina DeMarco, a behavioral health consultant and substance use disorder supervisor from Amoskeag Health in Manchester. She added it is comparable to Maslow’s theory, meaning psychological needs have to be met in order to achieve self-actualization and recovery.
“Foundation starts at food, shelter, and technology,” DeMarco said. “If we see them losing housing or food, they aren’t able to take care of themselves. Starting at the bottom, we call it simple things, but it’s not so simple for everyone else. Providing food, shelter and WiFi is where we need to start.”
DeMarco is referring to where she would like to see funding from the next federal coronavirus relief bill, which, according to Hassan, may be in the works around mid-July. Hassan pointed out that schools across the state are offering free food for individuals with kids in the school system, and added the importance of opening schools in the fall to ensure child care and food security -- all factors that will help those in recovery.
Eighty-three percent of large and small group substance providers have experienced significant financial hardship, according to a survey put out by New Futures. Providers surveyed lost $23,000 on average.
And as previously reported, many recovery houses have had to cut the number of people that they are able to house in order to comply with social distancing. Six homes have closed their doors due to lack of income, and 50 percent of those living in recovery homes have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
“The provider community is resilient and we need to remove barriers for those with substance use disorder,” said Merritt of New Futures. “We have to look to the future and have a clear opportunity to expand and continue to be a model for New Hampshire treatment.”
Merritt said providers should be encouraged to individualize programs for those entering the recovery community during COVID-19. For instance, in-person meetings may be online through the program Zoom or Telehealth because of having to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Some recovery professionals have said telehealth sessions with clients are difficult due to a lack of broadband or data access. Hassan said Congress is looking to add more funding specifically for that need in the next relief bill.
“I do as much as I can to get out there,” said DJ Johnson, who is in recovery and a certified recovery support worker. “It's the most important thing to do for someone that is in recovery. I think I would be lost if I didn't have people.”
Burnout has been high among providers, too, as many have struggled to keep up with their own mental health, said DeMarco. A need for more workers to keep up with the volume of patients was echoed by most of the recovery communities represented on the call with Hassan.
“We don’t always practice what we preach,” DeMarco said. “As clinicians, our time is spent taking care of clients, and sometimes we forget to do it for ourselves. Having funding to have more staff on board helps us be able to have the appropriate amount of staff. Making sure that we aren’t over our heads.”
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