While there has been talk about the COVID-19 shutdown aggravating mental health and substance abuse problems, there aren’t many definitive statistics in Pennsylvania yet to back up the presumption, according to state experts.
Some counties have reported spikes in overdose deaths, but some have reported reductions, said Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, on a conference call this week to mark Mental Health Awareness Month.
“There appear to be some impacts in pockets, although perhaps not as widespread as we initially thought it would be,” Smith said.
Hotline calls, however, have nearly doubled, to more than 300 a week, with many related to alcohol, Smith said.
A support line set up at the beginning of April has received 3,500 calls — although there is no pre-COVID-19 period to compare it with, said Teresa Miller, the Human Services secretary.
Inpatient drug treatment centers continue to operate, using tactics similar to those used by hospitals to protect their staffers and clients, according to Smith.
Many treatment centers have created special units or wings where those who are infected are housed, she said.
Clients are living one to a room in the facilities, instead of two or more to a room, she said.
“Unfortunately, that means reduced capacity,” she said.
There is mask-wearing, social distancing, eating in shifts to minimize the size of groups in dining halls, changes in waiting room protocols and markers on floors to show where people should stand, so they don’t get too close to one another, she said.
There should be no issue about paying for drug treatment, because Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or private insurance should be able to pay, according to Miller and Smith.
“Funding is available,” Smith said.
Group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous also continue, but most have gone online, Smith said.
There are still some groups that meet in person, however, to serve those who can’t meet virtually, and those practice social distancing, she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.
By the numbers
New/total COVID-19 county cases: Blair 1/32; Bedford 1/30 (1 death); Cambria 0/45 (1 death); Centre 2/128 (6 deaths); Clearfield 2/33; Huntingdon 3/200 (includes SCI Huntingdon 144 inmates, 40 employees)
Area new/total cases: 9/468
New/total cases statewide: 938 (up 32 percent)/59,636
New/total deaths statewide: 275/4,218, 7.1 percent of positive cases
New/total negative tests in area counties: 216/6,886
New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 225/7,354, 1.3 percent of population in Blair; 1.2 percent of population in area
New/total negative tests statewide: 7,388/251,559
New/total tests statewide: 8,326/311,195; 2.4 percent of population
Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region/state: 0.07 percent/0.46 percent