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How The Pandemic Is Impacting Utah Drug Courts, Part 1


Utah drug courts play an important role in addressing the state’s opioid epidemic, especially in rural communities. Now that efforts to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic are limiting face-to-face interactions many of these services are being moved to virtual platforms. 

“You can imagine that with our specific population, we're seeing higher levels of depression and anxiety and the isolation is creating problems for them and managing their recovery programs,” said Jared Bowman, the deputy director of substance abuse and counseling at the Bear River Health Department. This health department runs the drug court in Logan that serves Cache County and the one in Brigham City that serves Box Elder County. 

The drug court serves people who have serious legal issues because of their addictions and helps create accountability by coordinating their legal proceedings and treatment services. Part of this coordination involves regular, in-person check-ups with the judge. 

“That is one of the areas that actually has suffered a little bit with some of the social distancing is because the courts have been shut down by a mandate from the state Supreme Court,” Bowman said. “And so we're having to do a lot more informal meetings and trying to keep the clients updated is always a little bit tricky.”

Limitations on face-to-face interactions mean community group meetings like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have had to stop meeting in person. However, Bowman said many of these have moved to digital platforms. He also said telehealth services have replaced face-to-face meetings. 

“We want them to have more access to resources to help them with their mental health struggles. So some of our clients are actually being seen more often, maybe a little bit less lengthy appointments, but more frequently so they can have more contacts.”

Bowman said while he sees the social distancing measures as for the greater good, they do create a contradiction with advice typically given to recovering individuals.  

“We want people to stop isolating in a normal recovery world and to engage in the world they'd been withdrawn from, because of their substance use,” Bowman said. “And now, we're kind of talking out of both sides of our mouths, when we're telling them, hey, you've got to, you know, practice some good social distancing. But learn other and more creative ways to be reaching out and still connect. It's a weird message to be sending to somebody in recovery right now.”