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By EMILY DUGGAN Granite State News Collaborative

New Hampshire overdose rates have hit a state high, at 30 percent above the rate they were in March 2019, a year before the pandemic hit, according to Michele Merritt, the President and CEO at New Futures.

Merritt spoke alongside substance and mental health disorder experts from across New Hampshire in a Zoom video conference call with Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., about the issues recovery communities are facing almost six months after the start of the pandemic.

The state experts believe that the overdose rates could be attributed to the new anxieties that the pandemic has brought to people including job, food and housing insecurities. For many, a lack of technology has made it difficult to participate in both Telehealth video conferences and phone calls to meet with recovery coaches.

There has to be a balance of necessities in order to ensure a healthy and positive recovery moving forward. Nina DeMarco, a behavioral health consultant and substance use disorder supervisor from Amoskeag Health in Manchester, said it is comparable to Maslow’s theory, meaning psychological needs have to be met in order to achieve self-actualization and recovery.

“Foundation starts at food, shelter and technology,” DeMarco said. “If we see them losing housing or food, they aren’t able to take care of themselves. Starting at the bottom, we call it simple things, but it’s not so simple for everyone else. Providing food, shelter and WiFi is where we need to start.”

DeMarco is referring to where she would like to see funding from the next federal coronavirus relief bill, which, according to Hassan, will hopefully be in the works around mid-July. Hassan pointed out that schools across the state are offering free food for individuals with kids in the school system, and added the importance of opening schools in the fall to ensure child care and food security – all factors that will help those in recovery.

Eighty-three percent of large and small group substance providers have experienced a significant financial hardship, according to a survey put out by New Futures. The providers surveyed collectively lost an average of $23,000.

And as previously reported, many recovery houses have had to cut the amount of people that they are able to house in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. Six homes have closed their doors due to the lack of income, and 50 percent of people living in recovery homes have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The provider community is resilient and we need to remove barriers for those with substance use disorder,” said Merritt of New Futures. “We have to look to the future and have a clear opportunity to expand and continue to be a model for New Hampshire treatment.”

Merritt said providers should be encouraged to individualize programs for those entering the recovery community during COVID-19. For instance, in-person meetings may be online through the program Zoom or Telehealth because of having to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Some recovery professionals have said telehealth sessions with clients has been difficult due to a lack of broadband or data access. Hassan said Congress is looking to add more funding specifically for that need in the next coronavirus relief bill.

“I do as much as I can to get out there,” said DJ Johnson, who is in recovery and a certified recovery support worker. “It’s the most important thing to do for someone that is in recovery. I think I would be lost if I didn’t have people.”

Burnout has been high among providers, too, as many have struggled to keep up with their own mental health, according to DeMarco. A need for more workers to keep up with the volume of patients was echoed by most of the recovery communities across the state represented on the call with Hassan.

“We don’t always practice what we preach,” DeMarco said. “As clinicians, our time is spent taking care of clients, and sometimes we forget to do it for ourselves. Having funding to have more staff on board helps us be able to have the appropriate amount of staff. Making sure that we aren’t over our heads.”

Read the full article on Monadnock Ledger-Transcript