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County drug and alcohol officials concerned over lack of help calls during COVID-19 crisis

In Dauphin County alone, referral calls for addicts needing help are down 50% since the start of stay-at-home orders

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Even though stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines have severely limited the number of meetings for recovering addicts, Dauphin County's Drug & Alcohol Department is urging people there are multiple ways they can get the help they need during a stressful time.

"Right now is a very difficult time for those with substance abuse disorder," said Dauphin County Drug & Alcohol Director Kristin Varner. "Mainly because the disease of addiction thrives in isolation."

Varner says in Dauphin County alone, call volume is down 50% since social distancing guidelines went into effect. There could be a number of reasons for the sharp decline. Varner says many will fall back into negative patterns if there isn't a strong support network in place. Others, she says, tell themselves they can get back to normal once society goes back to normal. 

Some, Varner says, decide not to get treatment because they tell themselves it's not safe to leave the house.

Currently, Dauphin County is offering virtual meetings, through web-based platforms like Zoom. They are also attempting to call clients daily. Treatment providers are still doing face-to-face meetings while following CDC social distancing guidelines, though far fewer because of COVID-19.

"This is a very vulnerable time for them. There is almost going to be like a battle of wills," Varner says. "Not everyone is comfortable talking through a screen, so we are seeing a lot of challenges."

Varner expects a large uptick in referrals once the state begins to reopen. 

She says the Dauphin County Drug & Alcohol Help Line is staffed 24 hours a day, at (717) 635-2254.