Dave Battagello – The Windsor Star
August 22, 2020
Brian Hucker’s frequent drinking led him down a dark path he finally realized about a half-dozen years ago he just couldn’t travel anymore.
The retired teacher about five years ago wound up joining STAGES (Sobriety Through Accessing Group Education and Support) at the local Canadian Mental Health Association, a “concurrent program” that offers support to those struggling with combined addiction and mental health issues.
It was the same story for countless Windsor-area addicts — current or recovering — as hospital and other support programs across Windsor and Essex County had to turn off the lights.
“It just felt like a great loss,” Hucker said. “At the meetings, these are people like me who understand what I have been through. There is no judging. To suddenly not have that connection, be able to talk about how you are feeling each week was a big loss.
“It was ‘oh no, now what am I going to do.’”
Without such support, counselling or treatment, those battling addictions can slide quick, he said.
“You feel isolated and lose touch,” Hucker said. “Relapse is the biggest fear for everyone. It’s different for everybody, but you can lose a sense of hope and connectedness.
As quickly as possible, agencies have adjusted to counselling by phone or technology-based online group meetings.
Naty Ramirez-Reyes, manager at CMHA of the addiction programs, including STAGES, said it was a major adjustment to lose in-person counselling sessions, but credits staff for doing their best.
“Our staff has done a phenomenal job to be creative and adjust to meet each client’s needs,” she said.
There has been a noticeable “uptick in references” in recent weeks as those struggling with addictions have started to reach out as restrictions ease, Ramirez-Reyes said.
“With COVID as people moved into isolation it added to the complexities some people were already dealing with,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in the addiction piece of things.”
While phone or online sessions remain vital to assist those in need, social isolation being added to the mix for addicts and not including face-to-face group or individual counselling sessions for many of them “is not the ideal way” to provide treatment or support in their recovery.
“When offered the service online I jumped right on it,” he said “It’s not the same, but has been a lifesaver. I was feeling a sense of loss and loneliness. You were doing all the work (in the program) and then boom the plug is pulled from you.
“I fear for others who don’t have the technology or ways to keep (receiving treatment).”
Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare offers 20 withdrawal management beds, plus provides an array of outpatient services for this struggling with addictions.
Most likely due to being a hospital setting, the numbers of request for services tumbled significantly during the pandemic.
“It’s much more difficult when that occurs to address their issues,” Kolowicz said. “If it’s a non-urgent basis you can create some plan based on the dependence and substance involved.”
While it’s too early to define any “trends” related to the pandemic and addictions, those seeking help are displaying “amplified problems” with substance addiction and more “concurrent disorders” of combined mental health and addiction woes, he said.
As with most help agencies, HDGH has attempted to move quickly to provide virtual online support and counselling services. It appears to be working well enough in many cases, Kolowicz said.
At the House of Sophrosyne, one of the region’s primary addiction treatment centres designed solely for women, it has been difficult for staff to keep up with demand which has accelerated since the pandemic began, said Karen Waddell, the centre’s executive director.
“The need across the board has increased,” she said. “Our call volumes are increasing, our waitlist has grown longer and the number of deaths related to addiction has increased.
“With COVID, the isolation it has created has left people with more anxiety, depression. With that, substance use has increased as a means of coping. (With addictions) that can involve a whole number of issues that can be magnified under the existing situation and it makes everything worse.”
Compounding the availability of treatment at the women’s recovery centre is how the residential treatment home — available to anyone in need across Ontario — has had to significantly curtail the number of clients allowed to comply with social distance and health safety regulations.
“Whether it’s virtual or crisis counselling we try to get them what they need right away.”
Available government funding to address addictions is slowly starting to increase, “but we need to act now, we need to find a way to increase services,” she said.
For the Canadian Mental Health Association or Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital, the 24-hour crisis line is 519-973-4435.
To reach CMHA at their their downtown office during business hours at 519-255-7440. The agency online is windsoressex.cmha.ca.
HDGH can be reached at 519-257-5111 or visit online at hdgh.org.
For the House of Sophrosyne call 519-252-2711 or visit online at sophrosyne.ca.