COVID-19 impacts Myrtle Beach addiction treatment center

Published: Mar. 27, 2020 at 6:01 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Long lines of patients crowded around the Center of Hope earlier this week, waiting to receive treatment.

One patient said it took three to four hours on Monday and Tuesday to receive medication.

“I heard a lot of people say they were going to get fired due to the fact that normally they go there and 20 minutes later they’re out. So now they sit there for three hours, they are three hours late for work,” the patient said.

They estimated there were hundreds of people waiting together outside for hours.

“The parking lot was completely full. There is no parking, you had to park next door. I mean they were towing people’s cars that were parked at the store and everything. It’s kind of crazy that there’s no parking,” the patient said.

On Tuesday, the police showed up to disperse the crowds and limit the risk of coronavirus at the center, which provides treatment for alcoholism, opioid addiction and substance abuse.

The Center of Hope is one of the only clinics in Myrtle Beach that distributes methadone, a medication that helps reduce withdrawals for opioids. The drug is heavily regulated and patients usually have to come to the clinic every day to receive a dose.

While usually the process is pretty quick, recent changes to federal guidelines due to COVID-19 caused some chaos earlier this week.

“We’re having patients come in to give them extended amounts of medication as we were allowed to do starting Monday by state and federal authorities,” explained Dr. Trey Causey, chief medical officer for Crossroads Treatment Centers. “It created the situation where more patients than usual will have to come into the clinic. Now, the upshot of that is people will have to come in much less often from here on out until this crisis is over with, but on that first day, again with other things going that were out of our control, it kind of created some difficulties.”

The Center of Hope is one of seven Crossroads Treatment centers in South Carolina. Causey said Myrtle Beach is the only location he knew of that reported some difficulties.

To ensure crowds don’t happen in the future, the center is implementing new protocols including using an app.

“So a patient basically pings us through the app to tell us when they’re there and we ping them back with a message when it’s time for them to come in so they can wait in their cars or elsewhere so they don’t have to be standing around waiting in line at all,” Causey explained.

The centers had already been screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms beforehand and practicing social distancing within the center.

Beginning this week, Crossroads announced the centers would also be sectioning off groups to reduce crowds to three or less people, making hand sanitizer and face masks available and extending intake hours.

Causey said these changes are to protect patients and staff from infection from coronavirus but also to ensure patients can continue to receive the treatment they need even during the pandemic.

“People who have history of drug problems are in some ways perhaps more susceptible to having bad results with the infection with COVID-19 and they also become vulnerable because every stress that is added to a situation harms your immune system. So for that reason our services are more essential then ever really at this point,” Causey said.

The federal government also recently relaxed some of its restrictions involving telehealth services, so the centers are implementing this more for follow-ups with patients.

“So even though they have less time between clinic visits, they’re ideally not going to have less time having contact with our staff,” Causey said.

Causey said the centers are low on supplies like masks, but not on any of the medication.

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure treatment is not disrupted but we always have to be mindful of that fact that when you have a public health emergency like this, the people who are most at risk are vulnerable population and addicts in early recovery are going to be among those vulnerable individuals,” he said.

The center is still open and accepting new patients.

“We want there to not even be a pandemic as an excuse for someone not seek the treatment that they need,” Causey said.

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