Meharry Medical College reopens substance abuse program that was temporarily closed due to COVID-19

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nationwide data shows social distancing and isolation throughout the pandemic has contributed to an increase in substance abuse and overdoses.

Many of the programs that help people fight addiction have had to temporarily close to mitigate the virus’ spread.

Brandon Antoskow, Clinical Director of the Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center at Meharry Medical College, told News 2, “We were working with limited space, with only a limited amount of beds and we ended up having to close that program down.”

The Rainbow Program has reopened and Antoskow said he and his colleagues have put several COVID-19 precautions into effect.

“Each mom has their own individual room and within 48 hours of being admitted, each mom will get a COVID-19 test,” Antoskow said.

Once a mom receives a negative test result, she is able to participate in all program services.

“Our mothers will get individual counseling with an individual therapist. Additionally, they’ll participate in group counseling sessions. They’ll be meeting with psychiatrists and nurse practitioners each week,” said Antoskow.

Dr. Lloyada Williamson provides psychiatric services at the Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center. She said the temporary closure of substance abuse programs across the country has contributed to an increase in overdoses.

“Those who may have had substance abuse disorders that are now disconnected from their support systems …they may relapse and many of them have relapsed,” Dr. Williamson said.

Dr. Williamson added that relapses can have detrimental impacts on pregnant women.

“You’re really dealing with a critical time of development and change for two individuals, not just one.”

Dr. Williamson said the potential outcomes for those unable to receive treatment contributed to Meharry’s urgency to reopen the program in a safe and timely manner.

“Any opportunity that we can give a mom to have a fresh start and not only for her but for baby, we want to be able to provide that in a safe and supportive environment,” Antoskow said.

The Rainbow Program is 90 days. Women stay onsite and those that are postpartum are later reunited with their babies after they complete their ten-day detox.

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