Virus pandemic casts light on substance abuse problem in CSRA

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 6:21 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - This deadly pandemic is not only taking lives from COVID-19, it’s also making things worse for an epidemic that was already here.

This is a problem because of COVID-19, but also a lack of treatment options and funding. It’s an issue impacting services at Augusta University Health.

“We’ve experienced at least seven overdose deaths in the last three months. That’s that I know of,” Christian Frazier said.

Frazier says COVID-19 isn’t just attacking the lungs: it’s attacking the mind.

“I’ve distributed more Narcan in the last five months than I have in the last three years combined," Frazier said.

Frazier runs Focus On Recovery, a community center that provides recovery support to combat substance use disorder and mental health disorders. Frazier himself has been living in recovery from substance abuse for around 12 years.

“When the pandemic set in, we saw a lot of people pushed back into their fight or flight complex,” he said.

In other words, people who have been sober for years are retreating back to old behaviors.

From March 15 to June 27, the Georgia Department of Public Health saw a 61 percent increase in fentanyl-involved overdose deaths and a 9 percent increase among all drugs.

Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen says it’s the most deaths he’s seen in such a short time.

“Fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and meth. Pretty big,” Bowen said.

“Nine out of 10 patients that need substance-abuse treatment end up not getting any kind of specialized care for substance abuse,” Dr. Joseph Hernandez, a psychiatrist and addiction medicine physician at AU, said.

The health system closed its inpatient mental health program in 2018.

“In order to make that unit meet the new regulations that came out from the federal government, it was going to be cost-prohibitive,” Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer of AU Health, said.

Coule says it’s a systematic problem: a lack of funding caused in part by many patients having no insurance.

But Hernandez says they are expanding their programs to offer intensive outpatient treatment and partnering with local nonprofits.

“Even the amount that we expand isn’t going to be enough to cover it. We need more help. We need more addiction treatment,” he said.

A new outpatient treatment program coming soon to AU, but there’s also a new medicated assisted therapy program that just started. You can find that information and other resources below.

If you or a loved one need help, you can call the telephone number 706-721-6597. Select option #1 for appointments and ask to be scheduled with Dr. Hernandez’s Addiction Clinic.


FORAugusta-- Focus on Recovery

GA Council on Substance Abuse ZOOM Meetings:

  • All recovery meetings are held 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Tues.-Thurs.
  • Join Zoom Meeting:
  • Meeting ID: 695 949 293
  • Dial in on mobile: 646 876 9923

CARES WARM LINE: Call or text: 1-844-326-5400. Operational 365 days a year 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

AA Online Meetings

SMART Recovery Online

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

East Central Regional

AU Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program

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