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As rehab goes virtual, Pierce County agency fears some in recovery could falter

Not all people in drug and alcohol treatment can attend online sessions, and many miss the benefits of meeting in person.

TACOMA, Wash — Brian Statz calls himself an addict in recovery. Statz said he was faithfully attending sobriety meetings at the drug and alcohol treatment center at Pierce County Alliance until Washington’s stay-at-home order went into effect. 

Support meetings switched from in person to online, but Statz, who is homeless, said he’s been unable to make some of the meetings.

“I’m trying to change my life,” he said. “[But] I miss my sessions because I’m not able to get on the WiFi and actually be able to sit and have good connection for an hour at a time.”

Dr. Terree Schmidt-Whelan, executive director of Pierce County Alliance, said the non-profit social service agency is working to ensure that rehabilitation clients like Statz do not slip through the cracks, by offering them burner phones with WiFi to access online Zoom meetings.

Some clients have found the online meetings more convenient than attending in person, Schmidt-Whelan said. But not all of them have.

“I think there’s something to physical proximity that is important to folks who are in the recovery community,” said Pierce County Councilman Derek Young, a member of the county’s Opioid Task Force.

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Young said COVID-19 restrictions may have left some recovering addicts feeling isolated.

“We know, unfortunately, that there are some folks who are going to have some setbacks,” Young said. “We have to figure out a way to get resources to those folks.”

Young said funding from the federal CARES Act is in the works for Pierce County behavioral health programs and could assist with tele-health resources and medically assisted treatment.

But that funding will not be a panacea and Young said the outlook for people like Statz, who have no safety nets, could remain bleak for some time.

“I know people are hurting right now,” Young said. “The main message is hang in there. Help is on the way and we’ll try to do our best to help people through this, recognizing this is tough.”

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