2020 has been a tough year for many addiction treatment providers. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in the spring and has made recovery work difficult ever since—for people with addiction and their therapists. “Getting sober during COVID-19 definitely has its challenges,” says Harmony alumna Shayla E. The Harmony Foundation had to implement a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety.
In October, Harmony suddenly faced another dangerous challenge: the East Troublesome wildfire. As with COVID, the entire Harmony community rose to the challenge.
“Before October 21, the East Troublesome fire had mostly been a nuisance,” reported The Colorado Sun, “burning through dense trees and steadily gobbling up terrain.” Then it suddenly turned into a massive firestorm and on October 22, it began to threaten the Harmony campus.
The leadership team immediately came together for an emergency meeting. “There were also other fires in the area,” remembers Harmony CEO Jim Geckler. “We had carefully monitored the Cameron Peak fire earlier that week, which was unsettling enough. Then the East Troublesome fire jumped the mountain and started to burn on our side on Thursday morning (Oct 22).”
It was time to make a decision. When fire officials issued a voluntary evacuation advisory, Harmony decided to play it safe and evacuate. After the leadership meeting made the call to leave and not wait for a mandatory evacuation order, Geckler explained the situation to the clients and let them know what to bring along.
“We had solid communication between all parties involved and because we had done a lot of preparation and training in the past, we were ready to go within 45 minutes. We packed up the medical center, had a great procedure in place for moving the belongings of clients and how to move medications safely. By 12:30 we were lined up caravan-style and ready to go.”
Everything went seamlessly because everybody communicated and everybody knew what they were supposed to do. “Strong communication between the leadership team, the staff, and the clients, as well as the ability of people to make the necessary decisions, allowed us to move forward quickly,” says Geckler.
The destination was a hotel in Greeley, Colorado. With the support of staff at the DoubleTree by Hilton Greeley at Lincoln Park, Harmony was able to successfully relocate all clients and continue to provide them with quality treatment in a safe, welcoming environment.
When Harmony’s chief marketing officer Gina de Peralta Thorne called ahead from the road, the only questions were ‘what do you need?’ and ‘when do you need it?’ “I told them we needed 28 rooms and conference space and that we were 20 minutes out,” remembers Thorne. “They were just remarkable at giving us what we needed to keep clients safe in their recovery. We even used the situation in therapy, discussing how the environment in the hotel was very different from the Harmony campus and how that worked for them.”
The medical team had to quickly build a makeshift detox facility in one of the rooms with an ironing board as a reception desk.
“We managed in an emergency setting,” says Jim Geckler. “I’m proud to say we had uninterrupted client care, every single decision throughout the evacuation was made around client care. It was inspiring to see how people rose to the occasion.”
“Our client-focused culture is collaborative. Over the past seven years or so, we worked diligently to integrate better with other care providers in Colorado,” says Geckler. “We make sure we’re there when they need us and there wasn’t a moment when we didn’t feel supported by others. I received lots of text messages inquiring whether we’re okay, some of them just saying let me know what you need—that made it manageable for us. We had deliveries every day of treats, bottled water, and games. People kept asking how can we be of assistance?”
Once in place in the hotel, the focus was on keeping clients safe. “Usually our patients are in a safe, relatively controlled environment but near the hotel, we had locations where people do drug deals and some clients told us the park was a trigger for them,” remembers Gina Thorne.
Even though the hotel was safe from the wildfire, the Harmony team now had to contend with other dangers. “There was a bar in the hotel, for example, and we had to make sure clients would not be able to order alcohol from their rooms,” explains Thorne. “But the hotel staff learned quickly to work with our unique population. There was never any negative reaction to our clients, the staff was gracious and courteous, they really bent over backward to make sure we got what we needed.”
Again, the open environment was used for therapeutic effect. “We talked about it all the time,” says Geckler. “We made the experience a celebration and congratulated clients on a regular basis. We talked with them and made sure they understood the exceptional circumstances.”
Geckler is convinced that this group of clients will have an exceptional recovery because they are connected in ways other people are not. “It was a bonding experience, and the clients have really embraced it.”
Harmony stayed in Greeley for a whole week, finally returning to Estes Park on October 29. “We now have faced two unbelievable situations this year and we never considered shutting Harmony down,” says Geckler. “Our role is to be of service to our clients who are looking for help—we couldn’t just abandon them. We were able to keep stability for our clients and we were able to celebrate their achievements under difficult circumstances. Everybody stepped up and simply asked what they can do to help. In years to come, I will look back with pride on what we accomplished during this fire emergency.”
Cigarette smoking is associated with frequent substance use and poor behavioral and physical health in sexual and gender minority populations, according to Rutgers researchers.
The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined tobacco use by sexual minority men and transgender women to better understand the relationships between smoking tobacco, other substance use, and mental, psychosocial, and general health.
The Rutgers researchers surveyed 665 racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse sexual minority men and transgender women, 70 percent of whom reported smoking cigarettes.
They found that smoking was associated with race/ethnicity, marijuana, and alcohol use, and mental health concerns of the participants. Current smokers were more likely to be white and reported more days of marijuana use in the past month. The study also found that current cigarette smoking was associated with more severe anxiety symptoms and more frequent alcohol use.
“Evidence also tells us that smoking is associated with worse mental health and increased substance use, but we don’t know how these conditions are related to each other, exacerbating and mutually reinforcing their effects,” said Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s senior author.
LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access, and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.
“Our findings underscore the importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use and that address the complex relationships between mental health and use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana,” said Caleb LoSchiavo, a doctoral student at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s first author.
The study once again illustrates the strong correlation between severe stress—especially trauma—and substance use disorder (SUD). LGBTQ+ and transgender people continue to be exposed to strong social stigma—and even physical violence—simply because of their sexual choices or gender identities, leaving many of them severely traumatized.
As a webpage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about LGBTQ+ health warns that, “Stigma comes in many forms, such as discrimination, harassment, family disapproval, social rejection, and violence,” putting LGBTQ+ people at increased risk for particular negative health outcomes.
In many cases, smoking tobacco, and using other psychotropic drugs and alcohol are so strongly correlated because they are symptoms of the same kind of psychological stress. The more intense the stress, the greater the likelihood that a SUD will develop—and LGBTQ+ and transgender people generally experience higher levels of stress than their cisgender counterparts. They are simply trying to alleviate their stress with maladaptive coping skills.
Negative life experiences—especially in childhood—and persistent stress also increase the probability of developing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorders—all currently intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and all in turn correlated with substance use disorder.
The Rutgers scientists correctly emphasized the “importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use.” Evidence-based addiction and mental health therapy must address all underlying conditions to achieve a positive outcome.
Harmony has provided cutting-edge treatment at its Estes Park center in Colorado for half a century. Our modern, holistic approach to addiction treatment acknowledges the important role mental health conditions and psychosocial factors play as drivers of substance use disorders.
If co-occurring conditions are not comprehensively addressed, clients are more likely to relapse because they may continue to use psychoactive substances to self-medicate those issues. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Modern addiction treatment requires a holistic approach that addresses all mental health issues relevant to the SUD and provides a solid foundation for sustained recovery from addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, or you have questions about our programs, call Harmony today at (888) 986-7848 to get the help needed as soon as possible.
By Michael Rass
Although e-cigarettes have been around for more than a decade, vaping rates have dramatically increased in recent years, particularly among teens. According to the Child Mind Institute, “e-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents—some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017—far surpassing traditional combustible cigarettes.”
The Food and Drug Administration announced new steps in September to address the “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” issuing “more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints (fines) to retailers who illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors.” The Surgeon General warns that nicotine is harmful to children and young adults. “E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine as well as other chemicals that are known to damage health. For example, users risk exposing their respiratory systems to potentially harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes.”
Vaping products have risen in popularity among teenagers and young adults because they are considered a safer alternative to traditional smoking and provide a clandestine means of using marijuana. In a 2017 state survey, 27 percent of Colorado youths reported using e-cigarette products—the picture is not much different in other states. Vaping is also endemic among young adults in their twenties and thirties.
The popularity of vaping co-evolved with the widespread perception that marijuana use is harmless. In recent months, too many young Americans had to learn the hard way that neither vaping nor cannabis use is without risk, especially when the two are combined.
Colorado is now one of several states investigating severe lung injury associated with vaping. There have been at least nine cases in the Centennial State. Colorado parents Ruby and Tim Johnson told CBS that vaping nearly took their daughter’s life. Piper Johnson was diagnosed with Colorado’s first case of a vaping-related illness. The first-year college student had been vaping for more than two years.
As of October 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1888 vaping-related lung-injury cases in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one US territory. Thirty-seven deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. Early symptoms of these lung injuries include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Medically, it’s still unclear exactly what is going on. “Despite the accumulating data on the clinical and imaging features of vaping-associated lung injury, its pathology is poorly understood,” a number of Mayo Clinic specialists wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in October. They did discover, however, that all of the cases they studied “had a history of vaping, with 71 percent of them having used marijuana or cannabis oils.”
The CDC currently recommends refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis). Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker took the drastic step of declaring a public health emergency and banning in-store and online sales of vaping products in the Commonwealth through January 25, 2020. On the same day, California health officials issued an advisory asking residents to immediately refrain from using e-cigarette devices until a statewide investigation into the risks associated with vaping is completed.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is investigating all cases reported to them and advises that “the best way to protect yourself against vaping-related illness is to stop vaping.”
“Findings from other states show that most people who got sick used THC-only products or both THC and nicotine products. That is true in Colorado as well, but because the long-term health effects of vaping are unknown and as information on the illness emerges, our best advice is to consider not using vaping products.”
Coloradans who think they may have been sickened by any vaping product should contact their doctor, local public health agency, or poison control at 1-800-222-1222.
Harmony Foundation supports long-term behavioral change. When clients choose our program for recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, they are taught coping skills to help them avoid all addictive substances and embrace a healthy lifestyle. This is why we do not support vaping on campus and provide recovery skills classes that teach healthy choices.
Replacing alcohol or opioid misuse with increased nicotine intake is not a good idea. True recovery goes beyond abstinence from illicit drugs and alcohol. The goal of addiction treatment at Harmony is a comprehensive body-mind-spirit reset. The cessation of substance misuse is only one aspect of that reset.
CDPHE information on vaping and lung illness https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/vaping-lung-illness
Surgeon General’s fact sheet on vaping. https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/
Colorado drug addiction program is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary with a new intensive outpatient program with a unique twist and a Fort Collins Recovery Center. Gala celebrating milestone was held Oct 25 in Denver with special guest Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips. Continue reading “Harmony Foundation Announces Second Major Expansion During Its 50th Year”
Harmony Foundation, a Colorado-based addiction treatment center, has selected the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) for its Dorothy Dorman Service Award. The award was established to honor Harmony Foundation’s long-time CEO at her retirement. The award recognizes people or organizations sharing the same integrity and dedication for addiction treatment solutions as the award’s name bearer.
The award will be presented at Harmony Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gala in Denver, Colorado on October 25th at the Four Seasons Hotel. Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips will be the special guest speaker of this milestone event that commemorates the long and impactful heritage of Harmony Foundation which has positively changed the lives of thousands. Proceeds from this event will benefit scholarships supporting those with the desire, but without the means, to receive the addiction treatment they need. Tickets, as well as sponsorship opportunities, are available to the public at www.harmonyfoundationinc.com/50th.
“NAATP has long been the voice for addiction programs across the country and for decades has led the charge in establishing meaningful ethical standards and protocols for this important treatment category,” stated James Geckler, Harmony Foundation President and CEO. “We wanted to acknowledge their continuing hard work in helping their membership collaborate and better serve their patients.”
Recently NAATP has been active on the national stage supporting the passing of bi-partisan legislation H.R.6 (115thCongress), which contains over 120 separate bills to address the opioid crisis. For the first time, the federal government is examining how individual states are enforcing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) passed in 2008 and making changes to the antiquated Medicaid limitation on residential treatment based on the number of beds operated by a facility.
NAATP CEO Marvin Ventrell added “The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers is honored to receive the Harmony Foundation Dorothy Dorman Award on the occasion of Harmony’s 50th Anniversary. Founded nearly a decade before the National Association itself, Harmony was among the first treatment programs to join the association and has since that time supported NAATP as a valued charter member. This speaks volumes about Harmony’s commitment to not just its own patients but the welfare the national addiction recovery community at large. Keep up the good work Harmony and here’s to 50 more years of success.”
About Harmony Foundation
Harmony Foundation is a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction recovery program that serves in a collaborative and respectful treatment environment. Harmony promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering their clients to embark upon the lifelong journey of recovery. Visit HarmonyFoundationInc.com to learn more.
Working within the field of addiction treatment provides unique challenges to professionals with respect to keeping boundaries while providing compassionate care. When individuals working in treatment centers are also in recovery—and both staff and clients are involved in community groups and fellowship—lines can blur with the best of intentions. The opportunities for all staff forming more of a friendly relationship and less of a professional one are also increased in residential settings. One common issue is “over sharing.” Sharing one’s story is an important piece of recovery. When, however, does staff sharing details of their story become more about the staff member than about the client? How much personal information should clients know about their treatment providers? Another issue can be the “physical comfort” aspect of fellowship. Many women in treatment have experienced sexual abuse and physical trauma and may also have deep rooted sex/love/relationship issues or addiction. How do staff manage this for themselves, in community meetings and in the milieu?
Setting and keeping good boundaries requires practice, effort and professional collaboration—regardless of the role of the provider in the treatment setting. In addition to boundary issues specific to the substance use disorder treatment field, all staff should be aware of general boundary guidelines and principles of ethics set forth by behavioral health licensing entities—even if they themselves are not licensed or credentialed. One way to increase awareness of boundary issues is to have a forum to discuss case examples—perhaps in a staff meeting or before or after a designated training day. Specific training on this subject would also be very valuable as most staff want to do the right thing but need guidance in understanding boundary issues.
The Rose House is a 16-bed, gender-specific, dual-diagnosis treatment center in Boulder County, Colorado. For nearly 10 years, our three-month-plus program has been helping women heal through evidence-based addiction, mental health, and trauma treatment.
The Rose House: Women get better here.
Ann Matino, LCSW
Executive Director, The Rose House
Yesterday, Congress voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a new GOP-sponsored bill, which will now go to the Senate for confirmation. While this bill passed by a very small margin (217 votes to 213) it did pass. From a treatment center perspective, I would like to share my opinion (keep in mind this is my opinion) on the current proposed plan, as it relates to treatment.
For decades, treatment providers worked hard, lobbied hard, and ultimately gained parity for mental health and substance use disorders—meaning that these conditions needed to be covered “as any other illness” in health insurance plans. It was a giant step in getting care for those individuals suffering from diagnosed mental health and substance use disorders. The next step was the inclusion in the Affordable Care Act of treatment for these illnesses as an “essential benefit.” This was, in the eyes of those of us working in this field, a triumphant victory! Millions of individuals who previously lacked coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment gained that coverage and were able to seek help.
The current plan would reverse the essential benefit provision at the federal level and place the decision of providing or not providing coverage for mental health and substance use disorders to each individual state. State legislators would decide whether or not to include treatment for mental health and substance abuse as required coverage within their state. We could see ourselves in a situation where families have to move state to state to purchase needed coverage, or where pre-existing conditions prevent addicts or alcoholics from obtaining coverage for treatment. This is not far-fetched. In my tenure at Harmony, I have seen insurance carriers refuse to pay for treatment under the pre-existing condition clause, just because an alcoholic went to AA before going to treatment.
I feel this bill is a giant step backward and very short-sighted. The potential impacts of individuals not getting appropriate treatment for these illnesses are numerous, frightening, and have been well documented.
Next steps? I am hopeful that the bill in its current form will not pass the Senate. I am hopeful that the changes made by the Senate (and there will be many) will re-establish essential benefits and protection for those with pre-existing conditions. I am hopeful that the Senate will not rush this bill through, as the House of Representatives did, and will carefully weigh the analysis of this bill by the OMB. The OMB’s report on the previous House bill estimated that over 20 million Americans would lose coverage. The House members did not bother to wait for a determination of this number for the new bill, and it could be higher.
Once modified by the Senate, the bill will return to the House of Representatives for another vote. I think it is critical—as concerned citizens with both personal and professional knowledge of substance use and mental health disorders—that we contact our congressional representatives and our Senators, and make our opinions known.
This month we are talking about alcohol, because April is Alcohol Awareness Month. The annual occurrence involves a number of events taking place throughout the country, with the aim of increasing public awareness and understanding about the dangers of alcohol use. Alcohol Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) – the leading advocacy organization in the world addressing alcoholism and drug dependence since 1942. This year’s Alcohol Awareness Month theme is: “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.”
Having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol during adolescence can lead to an alcohol use disorder as early as young adulthood. Parents who have open, honest conversations with their children drastically reduce the likelihood of their kids using drugs or alcohol. The more teenagers know about the dangers commonly associated with alcohol use, the greater the chance they will stay away from the insidious substance.
“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people,” says Andrew Pucher, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCADD, “and parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.”
Unfortunately, many young adults are already living with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is why researchers have a huge incentive to develop effective treatments. Residential treatment centers give people struggling with alcohol the best shot at recovery, but there are times when medications are used to help prevent relapse, such as:
While some people recovering from alcoholism respond well to the aforementioned medications, others have not been so fortunate. Researchers from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation may have found a new treatment for AUD, and the beta blocker pindolol has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Science Daily reports. The findings were published in Addiction Biology, the Journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction.
“Drugs currently used for AUDs (alcohol use disorders) — acamprosate, naltrexone and disulfiram — have limited success — so this is a ground-breaking development with enormous potential,” said Professor Bartlett who is based at the Translational Research Institute. “In an internationally-significant breakthrough, our study showed pindolol was able to reduce ethanol/alcohol consumption, particularly in relation to binge drinking, a key behaviour observed in human alcohol dependence.”