As New Jersey continues to experience alarming rates of opioid use and drug-related deaths during the pandemic, SERV Behavioral Health System, Inc. is confronting the issue head-on by rolling out new services and eliminating barriers to recovery for those battling substance use disorder.
On Monday, September 13, the organization celebrated the opening of a substance use disorder outpatient treatment program at its Community Behavioral Health Clinic in Clifton.
A true “one-stop-shop,” SERV’s Community Behavioral Health Clinic provides community-based, integrated care for individuals with complex mental health, substance use, and physical health needs together in one convenient location.
“At SERV, we are dedicated to reaching people with substance use disorder and providing them the services and support they need to break the cycle of their disease and live meaningful, productive lives,” said SERV Centers COO Pauline Simms, who was instrumental in bringing this new program to Passaic County.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to work on solutions to the mental health and substance use crises in our state, and this new program is another step in the right direction,” Simms added.
“We provide a truly integrated model of care at our Community Behavioral Health Clinic in Clifton, and we are incredibly excited for this opportunity to expand our services and open the door to recovery for individuals and families who have been affected by the opioid epidemic.”
The announcement of this new program comes at a critical time for New Jersey, as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drastic increase in the number of people struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorder.
According to state data, 1,626 New Jersey residents died from an overdose during the first half of this year.
At this rate, the state would surpass its all-time high number of drug-related deaths per year, which was set in 2020, by more than 6%.
And New Jersey is not the only state experiencing a spike in overdose deaths.
Drug-related deaths in the United States hit a record high of 93,331 last year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 250 people have died from an overdose per day in 2021. The CDC also reports that more than 13% of Americans claim to have either started or increased substance use during the pandemic.
Experts say the effects of the pandemic have driven the surge in overdoses by heightening feelings of stress and anxiety, creating financial insecurity, forcing people to sacrifice social connections, and disrupting public health and support services.
According to Patricia Kazanowski, the Project Director for SERV’s Community Behavioral Health Clinic, expanding access to treatment and eliminating barriers to recovery for those suffering from substance use disorder is "crucial to fighting this epidemic."
“Now, more than ever, there’s a pressing need for treatment programs in our communities,” Kazanowski said.
“Our program offers a wide range of services, including ambulatory withdrawal management for opioids, intensive outpatient treatment, and medication to support recovery.”
“Our team of professionals stand ready to provide support and healing to those who need it," she added. "We understand that the recovery journey is different for everyone, and we tailor our services to meet the needs of each person we serve.”
One major benefit of outpatient treatment is convenience.
Outpatient treatment programs are designed to accommodate outside obligations and can serve as an effective and flexible option for those looking to recover from substance use disorders.
“Overnight stays at a hospital or residential facility can be a major deterrent for individuals seeking recovery,” said LaTricia Gordon, the Director of Nursing for SERV’s Community Behavioral Health Clinic. “In our program, however, there is greater flexibility of scheduling.”
“Individuals can continue to manage their careers and other responsibilities while undergoing outpatient treatment. Additionally, they will be able to apply the skills they learn in treatment immediately in their home setting while still having the support of the SERV team and recovering peers.”
SERV’s Community Behavioral Health Clinic also offers on-site pharmacy services through Rapps Pharmacy, LLC.
“Proven and safe medications like Suboxone have the potential to reduce withdrawal symptoms and save lives,” Gordon said. “Once prescribed, we will ensure individuals have access to the medication they need as soon as possible, which can be crucial during the early stages of recovery.”
The importance of National Recovery Month: what it is and why we celebrate it
In addition to expanding access to care, SERV is continuing its efforts to increase awareness and combat the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders.
SERV recognizes September as National Recovery Month—a celebration of the 23 million people who recover from substance use disorder each year. Throughout the month, the organization is helping to reinforce the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that treatment is effective, and that people can and do recover.
The 2021 National Recovery Month theme is “Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community,” and it serves as a reminder to people with substance use disorder and those who support them that no one is alone in the journey through recovery.
“The importance of National Recovery Month cannot be understated,” said Allison Dickens, the Director of SERV’s Community Behavioral Health Clinic in Clifton. “It shines a light on people who have struggled with substance use disorder, recovered, and went on to live fulfilling lives.”
“There is a lot of emphasis put on the opioid crisis and the lives it has claimed, which is necessary, but it’s also important to remember that there are success stories—to let people know that recovery is possible and even probable with the right treatment,” she added. “Too many people are still unaware that prevention works and that mental health and substance use disorders can be treated, just like other health problems.”
Ways to support National Recovery Month
One of the most effective ways to celebrate Recovery Month is to share resources and information about substance use disorder and recovery. This month, we encourage you to take some time to learn more about substance use disorder and research the best ways to care for individuals battling this disease. Share what you learn with friends and family. Also consider sharing information about treatment programs, crisis hotlines, and these downloadable materials about preventing overdose on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn.
Another way to show your support is by attending an event. There are several themed awareness events taking place in New Jersey and virtually during National Recovery Month. For an updated list of recovery month events, check out the NJ-CARS September event calendar or the official Faces and Voices of Recovery calendar for Recovery Month events.
If you know someone in recovery or who may be struggling with substance use disorder, you should consider reaching out to them. During this stressful time of social distancing and isolation, many feel disconnected, and something as simple as a phone call or video chat can have a major impact on someone in recovery.