A Tale of Two Pandemics
A Tale of Two Pandemics
Beginning service during a pandemic was nerve-wracking and, at times, confusing. What could I possibly do to ease the burdens of those affected by COVID-19 while I remained safely at home? Communities have suffered significantly from homelessness, overdoses, and countless other challenges that I’ve never come close to experiencing. It’s difficult to imagine what many people are facing, but through the patients at Sun River Health, I’ve started to get an idea of what they need to ease those burdens.
At Sun River Health, the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) team works to treat opioid use disorder through medications that help individuals reduce their cravings and feel more centered so that they can feel normal without using opioids. The MAT team also treats people who use alcohol and other substances. There are many misconceptions regarding substance use disorder, including the idea that dependence on drugs is due to a moral failing or personal weakness and that getting medications for treatment is merely replacing one drug for another. These myths can be extremely dangerous as they prevent people who have this illness from reaching out for necessary assistance. I even met one patient whose family refused to believe that his treatment medication wasn’t just another way to get high and kicked him out of their home. He was doing everything he could to avoid his triggers and recover from opioid use disorder, but without a home or any support, it was far more challenging. Beyond the treatment medication that reduced his craving and allowed him to feel centered in his everyday life, he needed people who would be there for him throughout his recovery. I realized just how isolating substance use disorder could be. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this isolation.
Since the pandemic began, overdose death rates have increased dramatically. More and more people are using alone, unable to work, go to school, or see the family and friends that support them. To address this, we have held virtual Narcan trainings to train more people in using the life-saving medication that reverses opioid overdoses. I have seen how hard the entire MAT team has been working to keep patients safe during this time, continuing regular communication with those most at risk. The use of telemedicine has expanded access to many patients as well because many patients who have difficulty getting transportation can speak to their providers using video calls. While the COVID-19 pandemic presents many new dangers and risks, the Sun River Health staff is dedicated to working with patients to get them everything that they need.
When I began my service term, I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough to do without going to the health center every day. From resource lists to phone calls, I have found that there are countless ways to serve the community even without physically being on-site. As National Health Corps members, we have the opportunity to help in many different ways, and it’s needed now more than ever.
Maria Bower serves as part of the Medication-assisted Treatment team at Sun River Health in Beacon and Peekskill.