Recovery center urges state to do more to stop overdose deaths from increasing during pandemic

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

LEMOYNE, Pa. (WHTM) – A local center is saying more needs to be done to help those battling addiction and in recovery during the coronavirus pandemic. JFT Recovery and Veterans Support Services is reporting a spike in overdose deaths in multiple counties in the Midstate.

The center’s founder Steve Barndt, who has been in recovery himself for years, says this increase is because of the isolating nature of the disease of addiction.

The state does have information about online recovery meetings and free podcasts on its website, but Barndt says policies about the number of people gathering need to be loosened for organizations like his, so people have more options for peer support and can have personal contact when they need it.

He personally knows community members who were in recovery for long periods of time, but then overdosed and died during the pandemic.

The center did 17 warm handoffs in April and 20 in May, which is more than usual.

Barndt says there were at least 19 overdoses in York County in May alone, which is more than double the number of coronavirus deaths there during that same time period.

“When the death totals are at one county, York, twice of COVID, and the others are running neck to neck or right with or above, it’s time to take a look, and we’ve reached out,” said Barndt. “We have tried.”

While JFT Recovery and Veterans Support Services is still holding two socially distant meetings a day, the many places aren’t, including churches.

“Even if they open…then we’re going to have the numbers issue,” said Barndt. “Here are they going to limit it to 25? Some of the groups in our area are much larger than that under normal circumstances, so are we going to have to turn people away?”

The Governor’s Office points out that places of worship are technically excluded from limitations established by the order, but are encouraged to enforce social distancing and the use of masks.

It sent us a statement, saying in part, “The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is working closely with treatment providers, stakeholders, and recovery organizations to understand their needs and challenges while following COVID-19 guidance. It is critical that Pennsylvanians know the drug and alcohol system is still actively engaged and help is available for people battling substance use disorder.”

Providers are still operational during the pandemic, as is PA’s Get Help Now hotline: 1 800-662-HELP.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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