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Hurricane Harvey

Home Destroyed in Flood Disaster

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, communities throughout Louisiana and southeastern Texas are now poised to review the damage and heal. As well-demonstrated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the substance use community is a profoundly vulnerable population in natural disasters1 and has been undoubtedly significantly impacted by Hurricane Harvey’s wrath.

Old Weathered and Destroyed Home in Flood Water Disaster in La Grange, Texas after Hurricane Harvey moved in and flooded everyone and matched with the flooding Colorado River.

Federal, state and local agencies have been working tirelessly to provide direct care and funds to support treatment through this crisis. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced on August 29, 2017 that affected states can assign previously allocated funds to this crisis.2 This funding source is in addition to state efforts which sought to enhance access to medication-assisted treatment in advance of the coming hurricane. Among other coordinated efforts, disaster support through the State Opioid Treatment Authorities (SOTAs) enable patients to be connected to appropriate services.

Nonetheless, despite our collective best efforts, Hurricane Harvey is arguably one of the costliest natural disasters this country has faced in recent times. According to the New York Times, the cost of Hurricane Harvey may be at least $160 billion.3

Importantly, ramifications to this community will likely be felt for months or years. Based on our experiences from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, early days can be “chaotic”1 with failure to establish the basics such as patient identity or dosing requirements for treated patients. However, the consequences of displacement, interrupted daily activities and the stressors associated with disasters have profound and long-term consequences in this community. A study of the impact of substance use disorder rates as many as three years after Hurricane Katrina showed an increase in hospitalization rates for substance use disorder in these communities from 7.13 per 1,000 population for 2004 and 9.65 per 1,000 for 2008.4

As any one involved in substance use disorders knows all too well, recovery is rarely, if ever, a quick process.

For those able, consider donating to reputable sites that are working to support this mission. A recent article from the New York Times5 cited several avenues to support Harvey efforts including the American Red Cross (800-HELP NOW), which offers broad support, and AmeriCares (800-486-HELP) and Direct Relief (800-676-1638), which both provide medication support to victims.

For those looking for resources in this time of crisis, SAMHSA offers a Disaster Distress Helpline where individuals can call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with trained crisis personnel.

References:

1) Maxwell JC, Podus D, Walsh D.  Lessons Learned From the Deadly Sisters: Drug and Alcohol Treatment Disruption, and Consequences from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Substance Use and Misuse 44: 1681-1694 2009

2) Texas, Louisiana may reallocate certain federal funds to provide addiction medication Wednesday, August 30, 2017; https://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201708300500; accessed 9/1/17.

 3) Swartz M Houston Needs a Hand. New York Times, 9/2/17; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/02/opinion/sunday/houston-texas-harvey-government.html?mcubz=0, accessed 9/2/17.

4) Moise IK, Ruiz MO. Hospitalizations for Substance Abuse Disorders Before and After Hurricane Katrina: Spatial Clustering and Area-Level Predictors, New Orleans, 2004 and 2008. Prev Chronic Dis 2016;13:160107.

5) Caron, C. Where to Donate to Harvey Victims (and How to Avoid Scams), New York Times, 8/28/17, https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/donate-harvey-charities-scams.html?referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2F, accessed 9/2/17

Chief Medical Officer, Aspenti Health™ and Clinical faculty, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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