When the state mandated lockdown requirements in March to thwart the spread of the novel coronavirus, there were some concerns that people who are treated for substance abuse problems wouldn’t receive the care they needed.
The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports, which licenses addiction treatment programs in New York, suspended all in-person sessions. The only exception would be for patients who were in crisis. Otherwise, meetings would need to be conducted online or by telephone.
Using telehealth technology actually ended up benefiting addiction treatment services. For example, it’s easier for some people living in more rural areas to attend sessions rather than travel to other parts of the region for them.
Timothy J. Ruetten, director of Jefferson County Community Services, said that some local providers held more than 1,000 telehealth appointments with patients over the last month, according to a story published June 2 in the Watertown Daily Times. He added that telehealth meetings work best when conducted for individual therapy appointments rather than group sessions. Professionals may seek to continue this service even after the pandemic subsides.
“During a meeting of the Jefferson County Health and Human Services committee last week, Mr. Ruetten said that considering the positive side of telehealth services, providers may want to consider continuing to offer the option to their patients past the end of the pandemic for certain treatments and situations,” the article reported. “Especially in Jefferson County, where transportation can be an issue for those without reliable personal vehicles, and when winter weather can prevent people from traveling safely, he said that an alternative method of treatment that doesn’t require the patient to travel can be very useful.”
This would require the state to revise some rules, which have been altered temporarily during the pandemic. State officials should consult local authorities at substance abuse treatment agencies to see how this could be accomplished.
We commend those in the addiction services field in making this technology work to their advantage. This shows the level of care they provide for their clients, which benefits all of Northern New York.
Maintaining access to addiction services is essential. Jefferson County recently recorded 13 overdoses over an eight-day period; two of them were fatal. Residents need to encourage people with substance abuse problems to make use of these resources to avoid further tragedies.