Protest organizer: As drug treatment  centers stay shut, there's risk of relapse

OASIS: A sign outside the Oasis Empowerment Center in Tamuning, dated March 16, indicates the facility is closed. Post file photo

Individuals on a drug recovery path and their supporters will be holding a rally on Friday at intersection by the ITC building, weather permitting, as they seek the reopening of drug treatment centers on island. 

The demonstrations are scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m.

Brandon Flaherty is one of the event's organizers and a client at Oasis Empowerment Center. Treatment centers are operating remotely under current COVID restrictions implemented by the governor's executive order.  

"At the same time, because of this precaution they're taking, a lot of the clients, they're not staying connected, they're relapsing," Flaherty said. "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."

A fellow Oasis client, Trudy Salas, had issued an open letter to government officials to open treatment centers for in-person classes, stating that they are essential for recovery.

Flaherty said the in-person classes afford people an opportunity to get out of environments that are detrimental to their recovery. 

"There's whole families suffering from substance abuse. If they're trying to get clean, it's kind of hard for them to do that when their family is in the next room doing the same drug that the addict is trying to stay away from," Flaherty said. "Even if the addict is away from their home for a few hours, that's a few hours that they're not around the drug ... and to me, that's a huge win." 

There is something very powerful about seeing your peers and knowing you're not alone, Flaherty added. He said it was surprising to see that treatment centers were closed during times of stricter conditions of readiness during the pandemic. 

"Cancer needs treatment. Cancer centers are open, they're still giving treatment to their clients. The dialysis centers are open, they're still giving treatment to their clients. But the addiction centers are not able to treat clients who have their disease?" Flaherty said. "It's kind of ... Is the government trying to say that addiction is not that serious of a disease, that it doesn't require treatment during this pandemic?" 

Flaherty has been sober for about two months. He was clean for about a year before then, prior to a relapse. His drug of choice was methamphetamine. 

Flaherty said he had left treatment, thinking he could handle staying sober on his own. 

"I told myself I got a year, I've been pretty strong, I know the tools they taught me at the treatment centers, and I think I can handle this. And complacency and cockiness and that disconnection is what got me down," Flaherty said. 

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