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Addiction and mental health services continue through pandemic


Substance abuse and mental health services are still available in Delaware during the state of emergency, but the coronavirus pandemic is posing challenges for people battling addiction.

State and private facilities are still taking new patients. But many outpatient services are utilizing telehealth when possible and many inpatient centers are taking extra sanitation and social distancing precautions as well. 

Friendship House runs a transitional housing program in Wilmington. Executive Director Kim Eppehimer says isolation can be especially difficult for someone battling addiction. 

“When you are in a substance disorder, a lot of times you’ve lost your community. So in order to be able to get to where you need to go, you need a loving supportive community that you can call home, and that’s something that’s being, pretty much, taken away right now as people are isolating themselves,” said Eppehimer.    

Friendship House Executive Director Kim Eppehimer

Gov. John Carney’s coronavirus emergency order allows patients to attend outpatient treatment, but it also relaxes telemedicine laws to allow for that option to be more widely used. 

Friendship House contracts outpatient addiction treatment to Aquila and Pace. Eppenheimer says the treatment providers are minimizing group meetings and providing more telehealth options to try to slow the spread of the virus.  

Eppehimer also says staff is reduced at the transitional homes and a lot more discussions with residents are done over the phone.     

The regional substance abuse treatment group Gaudenzia’s Delaware Division Director Kim Jones says visitation has been suspended at inpatient facilities, including visitors who conduct 12 step programs are. She says those programs are now being conducted in-house.

“In terms of the services we provide, we’re still open for business, we’re still accepting admissions,” said Jones. “We’re still committed to helping individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders while we’re in the middle of this pandemic.”      

Gaudenzia Delaware Division Director Kim Jones

Jones says Gaudenzia does have isolation rooms it can use, if someone at one of its residential facilities is diagnosed with COVID-19.

The state is still operating its recently opened Bridge Clinics in all three Delaware counties meant to allow patients to drop-in and be connected to mental health and addiction services. It's mental health call line is also up and running.

And advocacy groups like atTAck addiction are still working to connect people with the life-saving overdose medication Narcan.

“I’m going to meet somebody this afternoon, and we’ll sort of stay our six-feet apart and I’ll place [the Narcan] there and we’ll be on our way,” said Dave Humes, an aTAck addiction board member.

400 people died in Delaware from overdose deaths in 2018 giving the state the 2nd highests overdose death rate in the nation with 43.8 deaths per 100,000 population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A similar amount of overdose deaths are expected in Delaware for 2019.

This story has been updated to include the latest data from the CDC.

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