COVID-delayed drug treatment graduation brings tears in Klamath Falls

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Behavioral Health, Event, Family Support

Three graduates of the SUD program in Klamath Falls, Oregon, take time to celebrate with LCS Northwest staff members Celeste Lakey (second from left), Ellen Hamilton and Ginger Marsh (fourth and fifth from left).

Completing treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) while pressing through the hardships of pandemic isolation is a major accomplishment, times two.

It’s a feat worth celebrating with cupcakes and goody bags. With a dramatic reading of a parable called “The Cracked Pot,” about broken people bringing beauty to the world. And with tears of joy shared by clients, family members and recovery counselors.

The SUD program operated by LCS Northwest in Klamath Falls, Oregon, featured all of the above at a graduation ceremony in late July — the first such event held since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, and the first of more to come.

More than 150 individuals have completed treatment since 2020, largely through remote telehealth technology. In-person graduation ceremonies had to take a back seat until now.

“We wanted to circle back to the people who got cheated,” said Ginger Marsh, a clinical supervisor who joined the agency in March, a month before the Klamath Falls office fully reopened.

Twenty invitations were sent out for this inaugural celebration. Three graduates RSVP’d and attended. Program staff have lost touch with most of the others. That’s what happens when you recognize an achievement a year or more after the last therapy session was held. Studies show that rates of addiction, relapse and overdose deaths have increased during COVID.

But there was more than enough emotion to fill the gathering space. One mother was able to bring her two children; the state released them to her custody after she completed treatment, during which she had to stay clean for a minimum of 90 days.

“It was intimate and special and we even had people crying in the back of the room,” said Celeste Lakey, a program supervisor who has worked as a Certified Drug Alcohol Counselor for more than a dozen years, three of those with LCSNW. “I thought it was awesome, especially for it being the first graduation.”

The Southern Oregon team can now serve as a resource for LCSNW colleagues who are preparing to launch an SUD program in Portland. It’s a rigorous mix of relapse prevention, drug and alcohol screens, motivation groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Some students are referred by the court, others by state child welfare offices, still others of their own volition because they know they need help.

“They can come to us as they are, and we’ll take them,” Ginger said.

Twenty more graduates will be invited in September, followed by a rolling series of ceremonies every six weeks or so, until they are caught up.

Of course the Klamath Falls staff would like to see more folks attend future celebrations. But after all those long pandemic months, the simple message is the same regardless of how many people show up.

“They matter still,” Celeste said.