COVID-19 outbreak: Health & safety measures being implemented in addiction treatment facilities

words Alexa Wang

Three or four months down the line, what started seemingly as a minor respiratory disease outbreak in China’s Hubei Province in December 2019 is almost bringing the world into a standstill. Well, not really, but with close to 1.83 million confirmed positive cases around the globe and more than 113,000 deaths as of April 12th, 2020, the coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is no joke.

What’s more alarming is that in a majority of the affected countries, new cases of the disease are reported every day and according to health experts, the curve will be on the rise for the coming months, especially now that many countries are adopting mass-testing measures.

COVID-19 outbreak

Now, even though almost all industries have been affected by the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic, the healthcare industry has arguably received the biggest blow. Some areas in healthcare have been hit more heavily than others, and as far as Substance Use Disorders are concerned, addiction treatment facilities have not been spared in any way. Considering that the SARS-CoV-2 virus primarily affects one’s respiratory health, rehabilitation experts say that people suffering from SUDs such as tobacco, vape, and marijuana use face a bigger threat of contacting COVID-19 and suffering from its complications. Moreover, SUD surfers are also more likely to experience circumstances such as incarceration and homelessness, which add a fair share of challenges as far as COVID-19 transmission is concerned. Isolation, which is a key factor in COVID-19, may also negatively affect those trying to heal and recover from substance abuse.

Thankfully, addiction treatment facilities are implementing various health and safety measures in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Here are a few of them.

Proper Screening before Admission of Patients

Before admitting new patients, making SUD diagnoses, or recommending addiction treatment programs, many facilities are now screening their patients thoroughly to uncover coronavirus-related symptoms or threats if any. This includes asking patients about symptoms such as dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath, risk exposures, and recent travel as soon as they come to the clinic, even before they reach the waiting rooms. Some facilities are even going a step further and offering testing for coronavirus along with other vital tests before admitting addiction patients into residential treatment programs. The same is done regularly for both patients and facility staff to keep everyone safe.

Separate Admission Facilities for New Patients

One thing about the new coronavirus outbreak is that not very much is known about the virus and the disease it causes at this point. Studies have shown that some coronavirus patients can be asymptomatic or show very mild symptoms that mimic those of a common cold or flu. For this reason, many addiction treatment facilities have also restructured their intake process so that incoming patients are accepted into a separate building where they’re closely monitored 24/7 as they carry on with their drug detox or residential treatment programs. While undergoing addiction treatment, their vitals are also monitored, any symptoms indicative of COVID-19 noted, and the necessary actions taken as per the WHO guidelines.

Social Distancing Implementation

People are being encouraged to observe social distancing as a way to fight and reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As you might have guessed, social distancing is being highly regarded in addiction treatment facilities. For instance, many facilities are holding group therapy sessions outdoors where the patients can sit at least 2 meters apart while undergoing therapy. The same is observed in clinical settings during inpatient detox and rehab. Patients are also being discouraged from physical contact and activities such as shaking hands, hugging, and fist-bumping.

COVID-19 pandemic

High Level of Hygiene and Sanitation

Like any other facilities, addiction treatment centers have bumped up their hygiene, sanitation, and sanitization measures at their facilities. Surfaces such as desks, doorknobs, tables, staircase handles, and elevator buttons are being regularly disinfected to minimize the chances of virus spread. All staff and patients are being encouraged to wash their hands regularly with soap and running water, while hand sanitizers are being made widely available around the facility.

Finally, access to addiction treatment medication has been expanded largely over the past few weeks or months, especially encouraging take-home and prescription medications where the patient’s condition is not so critical. Additionally, telemedicine is being highly implemented in many facilities, where patients can just attend therapy over video calls and phone visits to minimize the need to visit the facility physically. With these and other health/safety measures in place, addiction treatment facilities are in the frontline of preventing and minimizing the spread and transmission of COVID-19 not only among people with substance abuse problems but also among the general population.


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