Before the pandemic, Lower Bucks County and the United States as a whole faced an opioid crisis. News stories focused heavily on pills, heroin, and fentanyl.
The opioid crisis also had a wider impact, as it engaged people in a conversation about addiction. As the coronavirus dominates headlines, the spotlight has shifted.
But even though deaths from COVID-19 overshadow those dying of substance abuse, users are still struggling. And Livengrin Foundation CEO David Blenk argues the pandemic has exacerbated the issue.
Social distancing means less interaction. By and large, families are staying in their homes. For many people, this results in isolation and separation.
Alcohol sales have spiked. The unemployment rate similarly skyrocketed. Many adults are stressed, or simply bored.
“You’re not going to the gym, you can’t frequent people, places and things that were part of a normal life,” Blenk explained. “And you can turn to substances to try to anesthetize that.”
And for those with substance abuse disorder, it also means less accountability. People who would have had to “stay clean” for work no longer have to.
“Employers aren’t catching employees using in the same way they would previously,” said Blenk. “The referrals that would have gone to their EAP (Employee Assistance Program) where an employee can get counseling help aren’t happening.”
When Governor Tom Wolf ordered the closures of non-essential businesses in mid-March, it raised questions for many businesses. And when Livengrin reached out to the administration to ask whether they could still help patients, they received a clear answer.
So they have, but with some adjustments. The facility, located in Bensalem Township, is ensuring they take every step to mitigate the possibility of patients and staff catching coronavirus. Blenk is knocking on wood as they’ve been successful with zero cases so far.
Every new patient staying at the facility gets a temperature check. All staff must take a temperature check every morning.
The visitation and admissions processes have changed. Additionally, they take proactive steps in case someone does exhibit symptoms of coronavirus.
If someone shows any signs, they must be tested before returning. In each instance, the person has had Influenza-A.
There is a new drop box to make sure people do not come into contact when items are dropped off for patients. This ensures there is not person-to-person contact.
Rooms are limited to one patient, and Livengrin has opened up new sections to make sure everyone can maintain social distancing.
Instead of meeting in person, those in recovery are meeting online. Livengrin is covering the cost of the tele-health to ensure they continue.
While taking steps to mitigate the spread of coronavirus is important anywhere, Blenk says it is imperative at Livengrin. The combination of COVID-19 and addiction can be a perfect storm.
“A lot of our patients are not thinking about the safety of COVID when they are actively using. If they are out in society, they’re not social distancing especially if they are doing something like sharing needles.”
Additionally, smoking substances like crack cocaine can cause respiratory issues. As coronavirus targets the lungs, an addict is especially vulnerable. Meantime, meth and heroin cause pulmonary problems. The virus also affects the heart, creating a “double whammy.”
People who wish to seek immediate help for themselves or a loved one can reach out at 800-245-4746. Livengrin is also available at 215-638-5200.
The recovery center still has beds available and is accepting new patients, with precautions. Livengrin serves Bensalem, Center City, Doylestown, Fort Washington, Lehigh Valley, NE Philadelphia & Oxford Valley.