OHIO VALLEY — As organizations across Ohio have reported trends in overdoses going up in part due to COVID-19 troubles and other behavioral health concerns, the Gallia-Jackson Meigs Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board has been working to put in place measures to address the unique challenges facing area residents.
“Information can be slow to get to us, especially with overdoses because of what it takes to verify them with testing,” said Board Executive Director Robin Harris. “Some are documented as overdoses and some as cardiac arrest or other things. I am always hesitant to throw out solid numbers because I don’t feel like we ever really have them. That said, we’ve been bracing ourselves since the beginning of this pandemic.
“We’ve been preparing ourselves for what we felt would be an inevitable increase in people relapsing in substance use, overdosing and mental health issues,” said Harris. “The isolation, the fear and fatigue, we’re all tired of this. Our lives feel like they’ve been turned upside down. It’s wearing people in a number of ways.”
Harris said one of the measures the board had taken to assist others facing behavioral and mental health challenges was to take its crisis phone line and put certified counselors in touch with callers immediately. Previously, individuals calling the line spoke with a representative who would then take the caller’s information to get them in contact with needed resources.
“What we did, instead, was staff it so that the licensed counselors are there to take the call,” said Harris.
The director said the board has placed information in bags of food during supply distributions as well as other points of contact with the public. The director said that the board had also sought to contact area school systems during food delivery to students in order to touch base with families and their potential needs.
“We’ve purchased equipment for our agencies to be able to do ‘telemedicine’ to stay in touch with their clients’,” said Harris.
Harris said she still felt at times though there were individuals who hadn’t been reached yet in need of services.
“We talk about families living in stress because all families, even the highest functioning people, are still struggling. You’ve got kids home learning and all of the different considerations about sports and church and shopping and jobs,” said Harris. “Everything is affected and the stress overtime is difficult.”
Harris noted that many support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and others were utilizing online contact services.
“That dynamic has changed how people are supported,” said Harris. “We have our people (the board and its partners) doing a lot of outreach. They’re calling, checking and just asking ‘Are you okay?’”
Harris said the state of Ohio entities had approached the board to look at producing an outreach program for families over the holiday utilizing individuals who had worked with the homeless and other peer support groups.
“We’re looking to use a variety of methods to reach out to others to provide support,” said Harris.
The director said Gallia County would soon see its first in-patient withdrawal management center opening near Vinton. Harris said the board had help allocating special funding from the state for the project.
“Addiction is a complex condition,” said Harris. “It’s a complex set of physical, social and psychological factors that come together in a perfect storm inside a person. Treatment is highly individuals and recovery is highly individualized. It’s done best in community and done best with supports. That’s the particular challenge that the pandemic has thrown at our treatment and our recovery efforts, it’s the isolation.”
For those needing assistance, they can call the board’s crisis line at 1-800-252-5554 or text “4hope” to 741741.
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Dean Wright is a freelance writer and former staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.