AA to zoom, substance abuse treatment goes online

Until the Coronavirus epidemic, their meetings took place every day quietly, discreet gatherings in the cellars of churches, an empty room at the YMCA, behind a café. But members of Alcoholics Anonymus and other groups of recovering narcotics found that the doors quickly close this waterfall to prevent the spread of Kovid-19.

What happened next is one of those creative cascades that the virus has indirectly closed. Rehabilitation went online, almost overnight, with enthusiasm. Thousands of AA meetings are taking place not only on Zoom and other digital hangouts, but other key players in the rehabilitation industry have taken the leap, transforming a daily ritual that many take credit for saving their lives.

Dr. involved in 84 years of recovery. Lynn Hankes said, “AA members are beyond the initial attraction with the idea that I’m watching on the screen of Hollywood squares.” Addiction treatment with over three decades of experience. “They thank Zoom for his very survival.”

Although online rehab has emerged as an emergency stopgap measure, people in the area say it is likely to become a permanent part of the way drug abuse is treated. Being able to find a meeting to log in 24/7 has welcome advantages for those who have a lack of transportation, are ill, have parenting or work challenges that a person needs on a given day A support network can make meeting difficult and help them stay more seamlessly connected. Online meetings can also be a good move for people who are just starting rehab.

“There are a lot of positives – people don’t need to travel. It saves time, ”said Dr., an addiction specialist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Washington School of Medicine. Andrew Saxon said. “For those who will not have the treatment easily, this is a big bonus.”

Todd Holland lives in northern Utah, and he wonders at the availability of virtual meetings of Narcotics Anonymous around the clock. He recently conducted an investigation in Pakistan that he had heard was a good speaker, but had some delay in the video and difficulty understanding the speaker’s pronunciation.

Some participants state that the online experience can have a surprisingly intimate experience.

“You feel more for total strangers, such as when a cat jumps on their lap or a child can run around in the background,” said a 58-year-old AA member in early recovery in Portland, Ore., Who refused. Name her, citing the organization’s recommendations for seeking personal promotions. In addition, he said, there is no physical logistics to participate online. “You don’t go to a stinky cellar and walk past smokers and don’t drive.”

At the same time, he and others say that they crave the raw intensity of physical presence.

“I really miss hugging people,” he said. “The first time I can go back to the church on the corner for a meeting, I will, but I’ll still do the meetings online.”

Mr. Holland, who abused drugs for decades until Narcotics Anonymous helped him remain sober for eight years, said that online meetings “lacked emotion and a way to express spirits and principles.”

It is too early for data on the effectiveness of online rehabilitation to be compared to in-session sessions. There has been some recent research validating the use of technology for related areas of treatment, Like PTSD And depression, Suggests hope for that approach, some experts in the field said.

Even those who say in-person therapy will continue to be better, adding that development has proved a great benefit to many people who would otherwise is One of the biggest threats to recovery was faced: isolation.

The implications extend well beyond the epidemic. This is because the entire system of rehabilitation has been in operation for a few years, with some seeing both dogma and insufficiently effective, higher rates than they see.

Samantha Pauly, national director of virtual services for the Hazelty Betty Ford Foundation, said, “This is necessary for both treatment and recovery, but our concerns about verifying the need for a relationship with a peer group and the need for immediate access Is challenging. ” An addiction treatment and advocacy organization with clinics around the country.

In 2019, Hazelden Betty Ford tried online group therapy for the first time in San Diego by attending intensive outpatient sessions with patients (three to four hours a day, three-four days a week). When the epidemic hit, the organization rolled out the concept in seven states, California, Washington, Minnesota, Florida, New York, Illinois and Oregon – where Ms. Pauli works – and has since expanded to New Jersey, Missouri, Colorado and Wisconsin Has expanded.

Ms. Pauley said that 4,300 people have participated in such intensive therapy – which emphasizes entering group or individual sessions using a platform called Mend that is more like a zoom. Early results, she said, show treatment is as effective as reducing cravings and other symptoms in person meetings. An additional 2,500 people have participated in support groups for family members.

If not for Kovid, Ms. Pauly said, a “creative search” of online meetings still took place, but very slowly.

An obstacle to intensive online rehab involves drug testing of patients, who can usually give saliva or urine samples under the supervision of the individual. A handful of options have been revealed, one of which involves people spitting in a test cup while being seen onscreen by a provider who verifies the person’s identity. The sample is then dropped into a clinic or sent in, although the risk of deception is always present. In other cases, the patient may visit a laboratory for a drug test.

Additionally, some clinical signs of duress cannot be easily diagnosed on one screen.

“You cannot see the sweat that may indicate a person suffering from mild withdrawal. There are limits, ”Dr. Christopher Bundy, president of the Federation of State Physician Health Programs, a group representing 48 state physician health programs that serve doctors in recovery. He said that these programs have hundreds of physicians regularly attending virtual professional monitoring meetings in which they meet with a handful of specialists for peer assistance and assess their progress.

“This kind of talk has challenged our assumptions,” he said of the epidemic and the use of the Internet for these treatments. “There is an understanding that it is not the same, but it is quite close.”

Other participants in the drug rehab and area leaders say that where online has been a good stopgap measure, they also hope that in-person meetings will return soon.

“It’s been a mixed blessing,” said David Teter, who wears two hats: He has been healing himself since the 1980s, and he is the executive director of Otagan Addiction Recovery, a low-income patient in western Michigan. The serving is a residential and outpatient treatment center whose treatment is usually paid through Medicaid.

In that capacity, he stated that online tools are a god because, simply, he allowed the service to continue. Through $ 25,000 in grants, the center received new computers and other technologies that allow it to telemedicine, and set up a “zoom room”. It includes a 55-inch monitor so that those who are zooming in can see the counselor as well as those who feel comfortable enough to come in person and sit at a social distance wearing masks. .

“We think it works equally well, we really do,” Mr. Teter said.

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