The Lead

Crawford County substance use roundtable highlights pandemic treatment challenges

By: - December 13, 2021 5:42 pm

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) continued its statewide listening tour in Crawford County on Monday, holding a roundtable with more than a dozen stakeholders to tackle the increase in overdose deaths in Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the roundtable discussion, local substance use disorder treatment providers, prevention specialists, health care providers detailed the challenges they’ve faced during the worst public health crisis in a century. 

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So far in 2021, Pennsylvania has logged 2,279 overdose deaths, according to state data. Crawford County alone reported 18 overdose deaths this year. 

“There’s not a lot of us out here,” Lisa Hoffman, an outpatient counselor, said of the need for more community recovery specialists in the county of nearly 84,000 people. 

Other providers echoed Hoffman’s concerns, adding that staffing shortages and burnout were high among treatment providers. 

“The burnout is just tremendous at this point,” Brandin Brooks, the CEO at a non-hospital facility in Crawford County, said, adding that he believes it’s become more difficult to help those with substance use disorder now than it was early on in the pandemic. 

“It’s actually been worse for us than it was a year or so ago,” Brooks said, noting that many small, communal facilities, such as the ones in Crawford County, are “not set up” to quarantine clients. 

“We don’t have the ability to keep people separated,” Brooks told attendees.

Among the concerns shared by providers and prevention specialists in the northwestern county, was the impact the pandemic has had on prevention efforts, such as educational opportunities at local schools, and limited county resources. 

“I guess being too small isn’t a good enough answer for me,” Troy Stininger said about the lack of drug court programs in Crawford County. 

“I don’t think there’s any program too small,” Hoffman added, pointing to Cambria County’s success with more inclusive “mental health courts” to help individuals struggling with substance use disorder and mental health concerns, find treatment.  

Despite the myriad hurdles, providers and stakeholders offered suggestions to state officials on how to improve the situation in Crawford County and statewide, including more training opportunities at the regional level, a move toward trauma-sensitive care and new confidentiality guidelines to help treatment providers partner with healthcare facilities.

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