Amid budget cuts, Easton’s Change on Third strives to provide addiction outreach

Written by on March 2, 2021

Amid budget cuts, Easton’s Change on Third strives to provide addiction outreach

By  Hayden Mitman

March 2, 2021

Photo | Courtesy of the Change on Third Facebook page.

Jenny Duval runs Lehigh Valley Intake, providing support for those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. 

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The last year, she says, “has been an awful year for the Lehigh Valley Intake.” 

The pandemic has been a two-punch combo to support providers like Duval.

First, coronavirus has caused uncertainty in state and federal budgeting and then, isolation has led to fewer people seeking treatment. 

Before COVID, Duval says recovery meetings would host up to 100 people a week. 

Now, they see a fraction of that. 

“The most I’ve ever seen is maybe 10 on a Sunday meeting,” she says.  

Fewer people seeking recovery has led to a loss of funding, from both the government and private insurance providers. 

The State of Pennsylvania is facing a $2.5 billion budget deficit, so funding for local drug treatment programs has fallen at a time when drug counselors say drug use and overdoses are up.

Northampton County alone has cut $180,000 or about five-percent from the budget of its Department of Drug and Alcohol. Lehigh County has seen similar cuts to treatment-related services. 

Because of this, Duval’s gone from running three locations down to just one.

“We managed to keep one of them, which is Change on Third,” she says. “I’m actually supporting it. I pay all the bills. I staff the place and we are running it the best way that we possibly can.” 

Now, Duval says, she’s spending $6,000 a month out of her own pocket to keep the center open. 

It’s enough to cover one employee’s salary, the costs to maintain the location, and to afford the outreach services they provide.

But, it’s not as if the pandemic has reduced drug use. 

In fact, the opposite is true, says Jordan Scott, a supervisor at Lehigh Valley Intake.

“The need is absolutely there,” she says.

Scott says the increase they’re seeing is the fallout from pandemic-related isolation.

“If you look at hospital admissions throughout the year, those are up. We know that overdose deaths are up. Overdoses, in general, are up,” says Scott. 

The Morning Call recently reported that overdose deaths are up 19-percent throughout the region. 

And, on top of that, remote recovery is difficult, Scott says. 

Counselors have to manage hurdles like teaching people to use Zoom or simply making sure they have a smartphone or internet access. 

“The drug and alcohol field, at least in our area and this state wasn’t built to be fully virtual. When COVID hit, it showed, like, all of the cracks in the system,” she says. 

That’s why Kevin O’Connor, director of Change on Third, says the in-person services they are still able to provide are invaluable to the community. 

“The magic of recovery is the power of two. You know, one addict, alcoholic or person in distress helping the next,” he says. “One of the things we’ve been able to do, following all the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, we’ve been able to maintain live meetings every day. It’s really important that people are able to find that contact.”

Even though she’s footing the bill, Duval intends to keep the center open for as long as she can.

“We have been able to help so many people, I don’t want to discontinue that. I want us to still be here and be of use. I think it’s important. We are helping one another out here in Easton,” says Duval. 

Now that she’s lost funding from Northampton County, Duval says she’s working with Lehigh County to start a new center there. 

Change on Hamilton is set to open next month. 

To learn more, visit LVIntake.org

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