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INDIANAPOLIS — Not only was 2020 hard on those struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues, it was also challenging for those trying to help those Hoosiers in need of recovery.

After years of progress in reducing overdoses among Hoosiers, 2020 saw a 50% increase in opioid overdoses reported in emergency rooms and a 67% increase in EMS-administered naloxone, according to Indiana Executive Director of Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Doug Huntsinger. According to Huntsinger, 2021 is not starting on an encouraging note.

“We’ve seen more opioid overdoses in our emergency departments than in 2019 and 2020 for the first 30 days of the year,” Huntsinger said.

As overdoses surged during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, addiction treatment centers around the state were forced to “go virtual” for meetings and treatment programs. Zoom meetings and tele-health sessions became the norm for many as the virus prevented people from meeting in person.

That’s not good enough, according to Recovery Centers of America CEO Stephanie Anderson.

“With addiction, it’s an intimate disease,” Anderson said. “People need other people. Part of recovery is connection.

“When you do video therapy, you get that hour, maybe three hours with the person via video that they have to focus on themselves. And then all other hours of the day, the dependence can creep back in.”

Huntsinger agrees.

“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection,” he said. “And we know that last year has been very difficult for people to stay connected.”

A new treatment center opened by Recovery Centers of America on the north side of Indianapolis represents an effort to get back to in-person treatment and recovery. The facility, located near 86th Street and Township Line Road, is housed in a renovated medical facility and has room for 112 patients to stay on an in-patient basis. The facility currently has 11 patients staying the building.

“They’re in programming all day, including music therapy and group therapy, recovery groups, 12-step groups,” Anderson said. “We give them lots of access to different resources to find recovery.”

One key to making the in-person treatment possible is the ability to regularly test patients for COVID-19. Though a partnership with a lab company called GENETWORx, all patients and staff are tested twice a week. Antigen testing provides results in about 15 minutes, and anyone who tests positive can be quarantined in a special wing on the third floor.

“They can participate in their treatment services here and continue to go through detoxification and therapeutic services, even with a COVID-positive test,” Anderson said.

While in-person treatment is always preferred, it’s more challenging for some facilities than others, Huntsinger said. Many smaller treatment programs lack the space and resources needed to follow social distancing guidelines and provide regular testing.

“I know of some in-person group meetings that have moved from the church basement to the church basketball floor,” Huntsinger said.

While there is hope on the horizon with more Hoosiers being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, Huntsinger and Anderson both expect addiction treatment centers to continue to struggle to return to in-person treatment.

Anderson encourages facilities to seek out partnerships with private companies, along with local and state agencies, similar to the partnership her company has with GENETWORx.

“To pair with other entities — state entities, lab tests — to figure out how you can work through a safe way to treat patients,” she said.

Huntsinger agrees that partnerships with outside entities can provide resources that aren’t otherwise available. Reaching out to a local health department could be a first step, he said. He also encouraged anyone struggling with addiction or substance abuse to call 211 or seek other treatment resources. Those resources are linked to the Indiana NextLevel Recovery website.

“It is difficult, but it can be done,” he said.