Substance abuse issues, whether in the midst of COVID-19 or not, never subside. How treatment centers and addiction specialists approach clients and patients has been altered during these times.

Dr. Fabrizzio A. Delgado, division chief for the psychiatry consult service at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, said during the first week or two of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a slight decrease in the number of patients he was seeing at University Medical Center where he and his team primarily work.

Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado Credit: Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Physicians

“But since then, there has been a significant increase in the patients we are seeing that have substance abuse issues,” Delgado said. “Isolation plays a role in this, too.”

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Delgado said, “We are seeing patients through iPads when they have some COVID-related issue and we want to diagnose them.”

Delgado said one of the reasons that he and his team at UMC are using telemedicine is “to reduce the use of PPE (personal protective equipment). We’re not doing procedures and we can leave them for others.”

He added that “at this point, I feel UMC is very well prepared” to help patients dealing with substance abuse issues.

The health crisis has raised the number of first-time admissions into treatment centers, said Dr. Bob Beare, chief executive officer of Austin-based Deep Waters Recovery Network/Programs.

“Traditionally, a large majority of clients in treatment have been in other programs several times in the past,” Beare said. “The isolation factor is accelerating the progression of the disease. Folks who were recreational or problem drinkers and users are now moving over the line. Several treatment centers in central Texas are now on waiting lists for the first time.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has produced a wide-ranging amount of information for those either currently suffering with alcoholism, drug addiction and other forms of drug abuse or in recovery that’s focused on COVID-19 support.

Beare reminds people that “if you are approaching or have gone over that line of being able to control your drinking and/or using, reach out.”

“When we are in the addictive cycle, it is hard to see, so we need to listen to the people around us … there are usually consequences mounting,” he said. “An outpatient solution may be indicated for some. Others may need to get into inpatient treatment.”

In-patient treatment centers have made significant changes because of COVID-19. This includes rigorous cleaning processes on an ongoing basis, said Charles Garcia, regional program director for the Trinity Detox Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Center in Southeast El Paso.

The Trinity Detox Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Center in Southeast El Paso is taking extra health precautions for staff members and inpatient clients. (Joe Rutland/El Paso Matters)

“From doors and offices throughout our location, cleaning is done all day long,” Garcia said. “It’s infection control. We see ourselves as first responders who deal with substance abuse and mental health.”

Trinity Center has added numerous levels of screenings for clients, he said. 

“I think we’ve seen an increase of people with mental health issues, which is a secondary diagnosis,” Garcia said. “The good thing about Trinity is that it can treat both illnesses (substance abuse and mental health). If there’s a mental health diagnosis, then we test for substance abuse. We have got to treat them in a holistic way.

“It benefits a patient to see an LCDC (licensed chemical dependency counselor) and mental health professional, too,” he said.

If you need help

If you or someone you love is dealing with a substance abuse issue, then reach out and don’t suffer in silence. 

Should an emergency situation arise, then it’s suggested that you call 911 immediately.

If you feel like you need help, then contact the Trinity Center at (915) 772-9111 or Deep Waters Recovery Network at or at (512) 677-7847.

Joe Rutland is a freelance journalist who lives in El Paso. He's a former assistant city editor with The El Paso Times and has worked for newspapers in Texas and Arizona as a reporter, columnist, and copy...