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Finding addiction treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published June 23, 2020
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Solving disruptions to care. For the Health of America.

Before COVID-19 began taking lives in the U.S., the country was battling another epidemic: addiction and overdose deaths. Many experts believe the pandemic may be preventing people with addiction from seeking treatment. But treatment is available, even during social distancing. Health plan specialists are trained to connect members with the level of care they need, as soon as they need it.

The pandemic challenges people with addiction or in recovery

People with addiction or in recovery are facing new challenges now. Isolation and stress can exacerbate the illness or trigger a relapse. And those are some of the exact conditions so many are facing during this global pandemic and a time of social unrest.

“There’s just anxiety and fear everywhere, given COVID-19,” says Mike McAlister, LMHC, a behavioral health case manager for the Federal Employee Program, or FEP. He helps members based in the Pacific Northwest access care for all kinds of behavioral health issues. “I think the impact of the pandemic is very hard on people because they lose their normal day-to-day routines,” McAlister says. “This disruption adds fuel to the fire and makes it even more pressing that people get help.”

Substance use issues are increasing

Substance use disorders are some of the most urgent calls he’s getting now. “People may not know who to call,” says McAlister. “They see an 800 number on the back of their insurance card, call it and hope they’ll get transferred to the right department. What they find out is that we have an entire team dedicated to assessing their needs and getting them the right care.”

McAlister says the impact of the pandemic—social isolation, a lack of access to familiar places and people—has led many of his clients to examine their situations more closely. That isolation, he says, may make it “abundantly clear that you've got a problem that needs to be addressed.” McAlister says he’s seen more members motivated to get help. He and his team know the terrain of addiction treatment options, both locally and nationally.

Finding addiction treatment – not a minute too late

McAlister says he recently took a call from the mother of a 25-year-old man whose addiction was worsening. The man was living at home and had lost his job because of the pandemic. She didn’t know where to turn, but she believed her son needed to be admitted to a treatment facility. So she called the number on her FEP member card.

McAlister says the son agreed he needed help and found a facility that met his need. The next challenge: getting him there. The facility was a couple of states away, and COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible to fly. So his parents drove their son hours to this facility. And it was just in time: The moment he arrived, the young man had a seizure and needed to be taken to an emergency room. Treatment began as soon as he was medically stable. And not a minute too late.

Regence BlueCross BlueShield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Service Benefit Plan, also known as the Federal Employee Program (FEP®), has been part of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) since its inception in 1960. It covers roughly 5.3 million federal employees, retirees and their families out of the nearly 8 million people who receive their benefits through the FEHBP. 

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 36 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.