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Mobile SUDS program offers lifeline to people suffering from addiction during the pandemic

COVID-19 has made accessing healthcare and support even more difficult for people grappling with addiction. An innovative mobile recovery team is bringing services out into the community.
Mobile SUDS, a community-based addiction treatment program, has been a lifeline for Jennifer, who lost her job and has struggled to overcome addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After spending the last month volunteering in Texas with the American Red Cross, St. Paul resident Jennifer has a new outlook on life. But a few months ago, her world was rocked by COVID-19 and addiction.

Jennifer grew up with two alcoholic parents, and her battle with addiction started long before the pandemic. She began drinking when she was nine years old and started abusing drugs three years later. She first sought treatment when she was 22. Fast forward 23 years, COVID-19 hit and she lost her job in hospitality. Tasks like getting groceries and worries about paying rent fueled her anxiety.

It also intensified her addiction so much that she ended up in the hospital in July.

Jennifer is not alone in her struggle with addiction during the pandemic. In fact, national data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that U.S. drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high this year.

This has recovery experts concerned. People suffering from addiction already face many barriers when they seek help. But COVID-19 has made accessing healthcare and in-person support even more difficult. Recovery rates have dropped, and those numbers may worsen as winter arrives and the pandemic grows.

“Before COVID-19, we would work with 15 percent to 20 percent of individuals at the 90-day mark of sobriety. But since the pandemic, it’s dropped to 5 percent to 10 percent. People can’t get traction,” said Dayne Bartlett, an M Health Fairview licensed alcohol and drug counselor and clinical social worker with the Mobile Substance Use Disorder Support (SUDS) program.

The Mobile SUDS program is a first-of-a-kind mobile team designed to help people reduce or quit their substance use. A partnership between M Health Fairview and the Minnesota Recovery Connection, Mobile SUDS launched in 2018. The program’s peer recovery specialists and counselors meet people in the community – bringing immediate and accessible services directly to people suffering from addiction.

During the pandemic, Mobile SUDS peer recovery specialists connect with patients over the phone, in virtual meetings, and at safe places within the community – while observing all necessary COVID-19 precautions.

Mobile SUDS has been a lifeline for Jennifer during the pandemic, when access to other support groups and counselors is limited. Her Mobile SUDS peer recovery specialist, Jeff, was her first point of contact once she left the hospital. Jeff is available to attend sober support meetings, provide additional recovery resources, and offer support whenever needed. Thanks in part to the program, Jennifer has been sober now for four months.

“There was a time that triggered me to want to drink. I instantly called Jeff and he helped me and talked me down,” Jennifer said.

“Don’t give up,” Jennifer encouraged. “Connections, even virtual, can be helpful. Just knowing that someone is thinking about you can make a difference.”