MONTEREY, Calif. (KION) Central Coast healthcare professionals have worked tirelessly to address the COVID-19 pandemic but say addressing the rise in drug overdoses and mental health needs brought on by the pandemic is their next task.
Dr. Casey Grover from Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula says he has seen a rise in overdose patients in the last year.
"In the time frame from July 2020 to the year before, we had the greatest number of overdose deaths in American history at almost 84,000 and we're seeing the isolation and the loneliness," he says.
Now, staff at CHOMP say they are discussing programs and resources to address drug abuse and mental health locally.
Doctor Grover says although the number of patients at CHOMP has gone down in the last year, the number of patients coming in for drug abuse, overdoses and mental health has remained the same, which he explains actually indicates an increase.
Grover says he sees about 8 to 16 or more patients per month dealing with drug addiction, with methamphetamine, opioids, fentanyl and alcohol being the most commonly seen. He points out that getting help was difficult for many during the pandemic.
“Particularly with people who have problems with mental health or drug addiction, that support’s been gone, they can’t go to their support groups. We’ve been meeting a lot in the last month about how do we set our patients up to get better," says Grover.
Doctor Grover says CHOMP is hiring additional psychologists, social workers and is discussing building crisis stabilization units that will be dedicated to addressing mental health needs.
"It's almost like a wing of the emergency department that is dedicated to mental health, it's an open area, there's support groups, it's more of a healing setting rather than an emergency department room by yourself," says Doctor Grover.
Behavioral Health Director Eric Ochoa at Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance in Watsonville says the issues with drugs and mental health struggles are also extending over to youth and teens in great part because of the ongoing pandemic.
“The substance abuse is particularly troubling because the way that we normally get referrals is through the students going to schools and referrals coming that way and with them not in school we are actually seeing less referrals even though we know the need is higher," says Ochoa.
Ochoa says these issues likely stemmed from stress and depression many say they experienced during the pandemic lockdown.
Ochoa says the objective at PVPSA is to continue doing outreach and making assistance and resources more easily accessible, particularly for those who can't afford care.
“We’re having to place radio ads and reach out to community organizations and seek referrals through normally ways that we never would," says Ochoa.
He adds PVPSA assists at least a few hundred individuals every month, but explains the number of those needing help but are not getting it is much higher.
Ochoa says referrals can be sent directly to the PVPSA web page or through phone call.