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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads through Kentucky, we bring you the latest on death rates, risks of reopening and how it was affecting the commonwealth's most vulnerable.

Addiction Recovery Services Lean On Social Distance, Phone Calls Through Pandemic

Jacob Ryan


Each week, about 400 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held across the Louisville Metro area. Many of these meetings take place in houses of worship, and now dozens of meetings are being cancelled due to concerns about the spreading of COVID-19.

This can put people struggling with addiction in a tough spot, especially people just starting their journey to recovery, said Sally S., the chair of the Greater Louisville Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous. Sally is a recovering alcoholic of 28 years and in a 12-step program.

“It’s scary,” she said. “Anything that can keep [people] from coming to a meeting can be used as an excuse.”

The widespread cancellations of events and closures of facilities puts many elements of society in uncharted territory. Sally said she’s never seen anything like this before. But Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are finding ways to continue.

In-person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can happen anywhere, she said, and they’re not necessarily required, although the fellowship that comes with meeting with other people seeking recovery is deeply significant.

“If I didn’t get that fellowship with other people, to help show me how to live, then it would be tough,” she said. “Each person has their own experience.”

The pandemic is disrupting nearly every facet of daily life. And addiction treatment centers are also feeling the pressure. But for some, closing down is not an option.

The Healing Place, located at Market and 10th streets, serves more than 1,000 people, offering detox, rehab and wraparound support services. 

Karyn Hascal, the president of The Healing Place, said the center is following all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the local health department. She feels like the center is in a unique position to deal with the outbreak -- they battle the flu and other infectious diseases regularly.

“Addiction is a deadly disease,” she said. “We have to continue to be here.”

And they are. But they are limiting some activities, like outside speakers, and relying on internal recovery programs. Visitors are prohibited, and the people who stay at the center are restricted to only essential movement in and out of the facility.

Hascal said the pandemic will add stress on society, and the people that struggle with substance abuse and addiction will be tested.

“This is not a time when the demand for our services will reduce,” she said. “I think the reverse will happen.”

But Hascal says, if that happens, they’ll be ready.

At Centerstone, near the intersection of South Preston and East Chestnut, men gathered in the lobby on a recent weekday and bumped fists and waved to greet each other. Centerstone is a regional behavior health organization that provides both residential and outpatient addiction treatment services.

Dr. Scott Hedges, the chief medical officer, said staff at the facility are encouraging social distancing, limited touching, and hand washing. But, like The Healing Place, they’re not closing.

Centerstone evaluates more than 7,000 people each year for addiction treatment services, he said. 

With the spreading pandemic, however, he said “there is no playbook.”

He and other staff at Centerstone meet daily to discuss protocol changes and steps they’ll take to find the balance between serving their clients, and stopping the spread of the disease.

“We can’t not treat the addiction, because it is deadly, as well,” Hedges said.

He said a foundation of addiction treatment is structure -- social structure, family structure and coping mechanisms. Without that, people are sure to relapse. That is what they are focused on, even as the pandemic spreads. So, Centerstone is limiting their group activities and when they do meet, they spread out.

Sally, with the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, does worry what the next few months will hold for people who aren’t accessing treatment facilities and rely on the fellowship and comfort of regularly scheduled meetings.

With cancellations on the rise, she said people will face tough decisions.

And she stressed that anyone that needs help with alcohol addiction, even if it’s their first time, should call the Louisville area central office.

“We will always do what we’ve always done, and come together,” she said. “We will do our utmost to make sure nobody falls through the holes.”

Greater Louisville Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous - 502-582-1849

Louisville Area of Narcotics Anonymous - 569-1769

The Healing Place - Mens campus: 502-583-0369 - Women’s campus: 502-568-6680

Centerstone - (502) 589-1100


Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.