Mays Landing addiction recovery center works to overcome resistance to treatment
A nationwide surge in substance abuse is creating new challenges for addiction treatment centers, who now must overcome people’s fears that treatment could mean a return to the isolation first brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Recovery Centers of America at Lighthouse, CEO Corey Richey said the organization has seen the need for substance abuse treatment consistently increase since the pandemic began 27 months ago in March 2020, but has seen patient response to treatment options change. She said more people struggling with addiction are loath to enter treatment, something she attributed to how COVID and public-health shutdowns are now less salient in people’s lives.
“A lot of the feedback that we’re getting from people when they’re calling in is that they’re not ready to essentially isolate themselves again when they’re just getting back to normal life,” Richey said.
Richey said Lighthouse in Mays Landing and other RCA facilities have been working to adapt to the emerging skepticism. She said staff is working to make prospective patients aware of the different levels of care offered at Lighthouse when they do push back against the idea of enrolling in an inpatient treatment program.
The highest level of care is an inpatient detox program for opiates, alcohol and benzodiazepines, which provides patients with taper and comfort medication and lasts for five to 10 days, depending on the addiction being treated and medication being used. The inpatient residential program typically lasts for 30 to 40 days, during which time patients participate in different therapy programs and have access to full-time nursing care.
Partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and general outpatient programs are other options. People enrolled in outpatient programs attend therapy at a hospital for several hours a day for multiple days a week over an extended period. Outpatient sessions can be attended virtually, an innovation motivated by the pandemic that could have long-term benefits for patients with work or family obligations.
Lighthouse also is working to expand its family programs that help people detect early warning signs that a loved one might be struggling with substance abuse.
Lighthouse Alumni Coordinator Jill Showers can testify to the importance of picking up on warning signs and having a strong social support structure. As part of her job, she routinely connects people struggling with substance abuse to others who have experience with addiction.
Showers herself has had experience with addiction. She entered treatment for addiction to drugs and alcohol at Lighthouse in July 2016. Her mother, who had past experience dealing with people who struggled with substance abuse, helped connect her with another person with experience with addiction, who in turned helped advise Showers about how to go about treatment.
“People with the disease of addiction and alcoholism are taught that we think a little bit differently,” Showers said. “We run across it all the time, like, ‘Why can’t you just stop?’ ‘Why can’t you just stop?’ and for us it’s different because we don’t kind of know how to do that on our own. That’s not our baseline.”
A crucial feature of Lighthouse is its alumni network. After people leave treatment, they can connect with alumni from Lighthouse or affiliated RCA programs. There are regularly scheduled events for alumni and daily meetings that can be attended in person or online.
Showers said another factor interfering with treatment has been a tendency for younger people struggling with addiction to not be cognizant of the severity of the situation. She urged people struggling with addiction to prioritize treatment before their situation worsens.
The need to respond to addiction has reached new heights as of late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics in May that estimated there were 107,622 overdose deaths in the United States in 2021, an all-time high. The 2021 total amounted to a nearly 15% increase over the 93,655 estimated overdose deaths in 2020 and a 49% increase over the 72,151 deaths in 2019.
A May CDC news release said opioids were involved in just under 81,000 of the 2021 overdose deaths — an increase from the approximately 70,000 deaths in 2020. In both years, opioid-involved deaths constituted about three-quarters of the total overdose deaths estimated.
Overdose deaths in New Jersey have also increased since the start of 2020, but the rise has been less sharp than the national total. The CDC estimates there were 3,044 overdose deaths in New Jersey in 2021 — a 7% increase over the 2,846 deaths in 2020 and a 9.2% increase over the 2,811 in 2019. Alaska was the state that saw the largest proportional increase in overdose deaths, rising more than 75% from 2021 to 2020.
Richey had previously attributed the national and state spike in deaths to disruptions in people’s livelihoods caused by the pandemic. That these trends have not fully abated makes the newly hardened resistance to treatment all the more worrisome.
One particular deterrent to treatment for some patients has been renewed professional responsibilities. Richey said the return to in-person work and a general tendency for employers to be more demanding due to less public concern over COVID-19 has left people feeling like they cannot take time off for treatment.
“People who were able to maybe take some time off or work remotely or things like that, they’re worried about their employment and how do they continue to stay employed or how do they seek new employment while also taking care of what they need to take care of in terms of treatment at the same time,” Richey said.
Richey said there is a work-flexibility program for people to enter but acknowledged it was a “harder sell” to people afraid they will be punished or stigmatized if they are absent from the workplace.
Showers said those who know people who struggle with addiction should work to learn more. She urged families to join groups for those close to people with addiction, so they can share their experiences.
“They’re not always easy situations,” Showers said. “When your kid’s calling you from treatment saying, ‘I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here,’ you know 90% of the time they’re uncomfortable, they’re getting sober, it’s not a normal state. So being able to set a healthy boundary and get support in that is crucial as well.”
Showers continued to urge people to find a healthy community that reminds them about the hope for recovery.
“I think it’s really important to be immersed in a community where we’re able to stay connected and be reminded there is a way out and this is kind of how we did it,” Showers said.
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