Oakland County promotes substance use recovery, even during COVID

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2021

 Waterford resident Stacie Burns, recovering from addiction and the founder of Drug Free All Stars, speaks to the crowd at the Recovery Celebration Sept. 16.

Waterford resident Stacie Burns, recovering from addiction and the founder of Drug Free All Stars, speaks to the crowd at the Recovery Celebration Sept. 16.

Photo by Deb Jacques


OAKLAND COUNTY — As the world slowly returns to some form of normalcy, celebrations that were once postponed because of the pandemic can finally be observed, and the anticipation makes them that much sweeter.

That was the feeling Sept. 16 when the Oakland County Health Network hosted its annual Recovery Celebration and Walk at its Troy location. Professionals and clients from the network’s Sober Support Unit played games, listened to the emotional stories of speakers and proudly marched — socially distanced, of course — to show the community that they are proof recovery from substance use disorder is possible.

The OCHN has hosted the event to mark National Recovery Month for more than a decade, but COVID-19 forced them to cancel the 2020 festivities. At the same time, shutdowns, job losses and grief caused by the pandemic brought on a 13% increase in substance use disorders by June of 2020 as a way of coping, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, nationwide overdoses increased 18% to around 81,000.

“You read everywhere how alcohol sales increased during (the shutdowns). That’s a big trigger to someone in recovery, certainly,” said Christina Nicholas, the director of substance abuse prevention and treatment services with the OCHN. “What was most important to us as the pandemic hit and as everything was shutting down was that people understood substance abuse services are considered essential services by the governor. We quickly moved to virtual to keep support groups connected. The life-saving services that can’t be virtual like withdrawal management, medication treatment services, detox services were all operating with a smaller census, but we had to make sure people with that acute need could get those services within 24 hours. They can’t wait for it.”

With hard word, diligent planning and a little finagling, Nicholas said, the network’s sobriety support services hung on through the height of the pandemic shutdowns, though virus fear caused a dip in services at first. Further, data from the University of Kentucky’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Research suggests that some patients with substance use disorder who would normally be treated and referred to recovery resources from physicians weren’t able to be seen as many medical facilities prioritized COVID-19 treatment for several months.

“I think people sheltered in place and didn’t go anywhere, and they relied on online support. But there’s nothing compared to face-to-face support. The biggest challenge was making sure the Sober Support Unit was open and was able to remain open so people could access that higher level of care right away,” she said.

The recovery celebration last week served to cheer on the care providers, people in recovery and their families who continue to work toward managing their substance use disorder. It was a smaller event — the usual 300-400 people who come was pared down to about 150 guests — but the message was the same and just as emphatic.

“It’s wonderful for people very early in recovery to see how much the community cares and to see how many people support their recovery. And it’s important for people further along in their recovery too” Nicholas said.

Along with the usual activities, the celebration featured an on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

“According to the CDC, people with substance use disorder are at a higher risk of contracting COVID and they’re at a higher risk of getting more severe symptoms,” Nicholas said.

“We’re focusing on the health and wellness of those with substance use disorder, and really, offering the dose of that vaccine is how we know we’re doing what we can to get back to normalcy,” Nicholas said of the clinic.

The OCHN and its Sober Support Unit can direct non-emergent clients to substance use services through Access, housed inside the OCHN’s Resource and Crisis Center, located on the Oakland County campus at 1200 N. Telegraph Road, building 32 E in Pontiac. Call the Access center at (248) 464-6363 or visit oaklandchn.org and click the tab for Access/Services.

Emergency services are available through OCHN service provider Common Ground. The public is encouraged to call the agency’s Resources and Crisis helpline 24/7 at (800) 231-1127.