While medical institutions across the city are trying to accommodate a possible onslaught of coronavirus patients, LA drug rehabilitation centers remain open to a problem that the City has plagued for decades.
"It is really important to know that while this thing is at the forefront and in the center, it is still an opioid and – especially here in Los Angeles – there is a methamphetamine crisis," says Brandon Fernandez -Comer, Chief Operating Officer at CRI-Help, an addiction rehabilitation center in Los Angeles.
The opioid crisis has been featured on the front page in recent years, but opioid-related deaths have been ravaging communities in the United States for decades. Since the turn of the century, more than 400,000 people have died from opioids, a quarter of whom have died from the potent anesthetic fentanyl in the past six years. The toll has reduced average life expectancy and left a generation of children without parents. By 2016, a number of articles and lawsuits raised awareness of the magnitude of the problem, leading to a (albeit lukewarm) response from federal officials.
More recently, deaths from overdose with stimulants have increased, which may represent the next phase of the drug crisis. Overdoses of psychostimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine increased by 22 percent from 2017 to 2018. In Los Angeles, gay men carry the heaviest burden of methane addiction.
It is a medical emergency at the highest level. As a result, the rehab centers remained open and are adapting to the reality of operating a key company during a pandemic.
"One of the most difficult challenges we have faced in the past two weeks is to adapt very quickly to a telehealth model," says Fernandez-Comer.
Instead of commuting to CRI-Help facilities, employees are now offering individual counseling and group meetings via video chat. Aside from creating the necessary infrastructure – from wiring the building to ensuring a robust broadband connection – this has brought with it many more human challenges.
"You must be able to entertain and engage in order to have the recently recovering addicts and alcoholics with you for 60 to 90 minutes."
Not all operations were maintained during the transition. CRI-Help has discontinued all external activities, including trips outside the company, family visits and 12-stage meetings. This last change in particular is a "big, big blow," says Fernandez-Comer, "because it is so important for us to ensure that people have an established social support network when they are released from treatment."
Luxury rehab centers have made their own concessions. Cliffside Malibu, which is said to cost residents up to $ 68,000 for a 30-day stay, will limit outdoor activities to beach visits, hikes, or "places to avoid crowds of people". Cliffside has also temporarily suspended massage, acupuncture, and reiki.
Within CRI-Help, the residents responded with a mixture of fear, camaraderie and resilience.
On the one hand: “People sort an In and Out group very quickly [themselves into] and you become anxious. You see someone coughing or sneezing and suddenly you want him out. “
So far only one resident has shown possible symptoms of the virus. This person has been tested, but due to the test backlog, they are still waiting for results.
Most of the time, patients accepted the craziness of the moment, according to Fernandez-Comer: “They came along and understood that these were very turbulent and unprecedented times. ”
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