At least two brave recovering addicts stepped out of the shadows and put themselves out in public recently – exposing themselves to harsh judgments – to join the pleas for Guam's substance abuse treatment centers to reopen for in-person meetings.
And on Thursday, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's latest executive order finally addressed this issue.
The governor clarified that substance abuse treatment centers are among the facilities that have been allowed to reopen all along, even as the governor extended the stay-at-home order and Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 week after week. The island in general will be under somewhat of a continuing lockdown through Sept. 25 with the announcement Thursday of another extension.
In a statement, the governor's office clarified: "Drug treatment and counseling were always allowed to operate under the prior orders because they are and continue to be health care providers. That said, every provider is allowed to manage the risk of exposure responsibly, which is why most counseling is occurring virtually. The added language just provides greater clarity to the existing policy."
Up until this clarification, people recovering from substance abuse were only assisted through video meetings. And this had gone on for more than a month, dating back to when Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 was restored.
Trudy Salas, a 20-year-old recovering addict, recently described through a story in The Guam Daily Post that key to an addict's recovery is the support of people around them who are fighting similar battles.
"There's no cure for addiction – none. There's only the fellowship, the camaraderie, the people who have been there, who are there to teach us what they have learned. ... And without these classes, these treatment centers, these people, there are relapses. There are deaths," Salas said.
Brandon Flaherty, another recovering addict who said he's been sober for two months, was organizing a protest, which was scheduled to be held today, to call attention to the need for substance abuse facilities to stay open for in-person sessions. Now that the governor has clarified the rules, the protest has been called off.
Although it should have been done sooner, some of the recovering addicts who need in-person treatment are thankful that, finally, at least some of their needs are being addressed.
We can only hope that, moving forward, the services for recovering addicts are also prioritized at the very least in the clarification of rules. We expect the management of the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center to be the proactive advocate for people struggling to recover from substance abuse. And we hope this advocacy will include knowing when some government rules may have been implemented or not implemented properly to the detriment of clients.
In future government stay-at-home orders, it's important to note there are recovering addicts who don't have phones or computers with reliable internet, so the video sessions were not of any use to them.
The lack of in-person support has caused people to relapse, Flaherty has said, when treatment centers were closed for in-person group meetings.
Flaherty said a lot of the clients of the substance abuse centers were "not staying connected, they're relapsing. Because some of them don't have access to a smartphone or don't have a data plan so they can log on to Zoom so they can get the treatment."
Some of the recent court cases also tell of drug offenders whose recoveries have slid backward because they couldn't get the in-person services of substance abuse treatment centers.
Although the clarification comes a bit late, at least the issue has been cleared up. If only Guam Behavioral Health had been responsive sooner.