In mid-March, just as the governor's directives went into effect, Luke Tomsha immediately reached out to clients dealine with drug or alcohol dependence.
He issued multiple lengthy messages on the Facebook page or through links to the nonprofit organization he founded in 2017, Perfectly Flawed Foundation.
I knew that we had to step up and we needed to prepared. I knew this would be a problem for a lot of people who didn't know what was happening or had a lot of anxiety," Tomsha said. "I wanted to put out a message that we're here for them and are willing to do whatever we can for them and their families ... whatever they're struggling with."
"We're just preparing for the months ahead as well, not just with the vulnerable populations but also with the general population."
Tomsha said he has not documented a definite increase in calls from people reaching out for help, but he and his mostly-volunteer staff are bracing for an influx after the lifting of orders that increased isolation for many people. He noted that bars are closed, but more people may be drinking or using drugs at home at all hours of the day, simply from having their routines thrown off and from not having plans for what to do all day.
"We definitely had people reach out and say they've relapsed," Tomsha said, noting he's glad that users who tried to quit opioids, heroin or other substances thought to call Perfectly Flawed.
Tomsha said his office doors are locked downstairs at the old railroad depot in La Salle, but he is working, fielding calls, emails and messages and helping individuals and families to connect to resources they need. Employee Veronica (Senica) Hawthorne is helping remotely. Tomsha has concern that people who need medicines to help them avoid withdrawal symptoms may have difficulty getting them, and initially in March, some treatment centers were not taking new patients. He said that situation has approved, but the waiting time seems longer than usual.
Tomsha's not a proponent of treatment stays for everyone, and instead his group — they're not therapists or counselors — provides guidance in "smart recovery and peer support." Smart recovery is an alternative to the AA model 12-step program, instead focusing on self-empowerment tools.
Perfectly Flawed has remote peer support groups at 6 p.m. on Thursdays, can arrange one-on-one support sessions and is starting a Smart Recovery group online on Sundays.
Tomsha, who was an information technology engineer before drug dependence and recovery helped him find his cause, has a COVID-19 resource page set up not only with coronavirus precautions but also with various hotlines for crises and a "warmline" for individuals or families needing to talk aboout issues. On Facebook, Perfectly Flawed launched a series called "stay connected." He realizes that during social-distancing efforts, people can struggle with loneliness.
Stay Connected series topics have included three therapists, a New York phsychologist from Center for Optimal Living and even an online program on Thursday with the Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce director Joni Hunt, chatting with Tomsha about the community, plus Earth Day-themed gardening tips April 24 over the Facebook page.
Much of a $500,000 grant to help people affected by the opioid crisis went to hiring 30 people to work at treatment centers in Dixon, Sterling and Oregon, Ill. and to find jobs for people aftereatment. But a portion of the grant funds went to hiring a Business Employment Skills Team employee, Kim Doll, to help find employment for people who've been through treatment, incarcerated, are in recovery or for families or individuals greatly affected by someone else's opioid use.
Doll said BEST is in the beginning stages of lining up "second chance employers" so it's not exactly fair to say the coronavirus precautions have slowed down hiring of people who go through the program. She still is looking for more employers, but did note that some may be holding off on hiring anyone this month.
Doll said she has concern that isolation along with an unheralded, sudden leap in unemployment is compound anxiety and fears for people.