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State launches addiction intervention resource

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A program supported by the state has been launched to provide free online treatment for people struggling with all types of addictions.

The program also can help the family or loved ones of those with problems. The website accessible by computer, tablet or smartphone can be found at www.nm5actions.com.

“One thing this program does is really tries to help people understand the roots of this problem,” said John Fitzgerald, a licensed counselor and certified addiction specialist with a private practice in Oregon.

He received state funding from the Behavioral Services Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department to create the “first of its kind” digital health platform in cooperation with the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line.

“Addictions becomes adaptive to something underneath it,” he said. “It is not the root problem. It is something that develops because something underneath it hasn’t been addressed.”

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New Mexico and Chaves County have reported significant gaps between those who need help and those who are receiving it.

The New Mexico Substance Use Disorder Treatment Gap Analysis of January 2020 determined that the gap between those in need of help in Chaves County and those getting help was 79%, with an estimated 5,282 people untreated. The treatment gap for the state was 66%.

While that research focused on substance use, Fitzgerald said the 5-Actions Program addresses behavioral addictions as well, including gambling, video game playing or other behaviors. Frequently people have more than one addiction, he said.

The treatment gap numbers were determined prior to the pandemic, and Fitzgerald says they problem has only grown. Wendy Linebrink-Allison, program manager with the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line, said reports of substance abuse and overdoses in New Mexico are increasing with the pandemic.

Fitzgerald called the pandemic a “continuous traumatic stress” that is “future focused” because some people worry greatly about what could happen in the months ahead. Isolation and loneliness also have increased. For some that has meant increased depression and anxiety.

Layered on top of that are the holidays, when relationship problems, financial worries and work concerns often are exacerbated.

Linebrink-Allison said that is one of the reasons why the state launched the website Nov. 23, before Thanksgiving.

Fitzgerald said the free online resource includes more than 100 short videos, private assessment tools, behavioral and thought exercises, and other invention resources. He described it as a good starting point for people in rural areas, people who worry about the stigma of seeking help, those unsure about their options or people who cannot afford traditional counseling.

And, because healthy human connections are one of three keys to improvement, people participating in the 5-Actions Program can call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line (855-662-7474) at any time, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, or its related peer-to-peer network (855-466-7100).

Among other resources, the wellness lines offer licensed clinicians for those who want further professional guidance and information on accessing professional resources. Peer-to-peer support is available if people want to talk with others who have gone through similar experiences. Fitzgerald said that workers with the lines have been trained about the 5-Actions Program.

“This is the only state that we have launched it in,” Fitzgerald said. “It is meant to be a program for all people.”

Although new, the 5-Actions Program is based on years of research about what works to change behaviors and thought processes for the better, Fitzgerald said. The two desired outcomes are reductions in addictive behaviors or mental health concerns and an improved quality of life.

The five actions are not specific steps, but a way to organize activity. The actions are motivation to become energized about achieving goals; evaluation of which behaviors need to be addressed; resolution of short-term and long-term issues that can be solved; management of chronic health or life issues that cannot be solved but must be dealt with effectively; and creation, or the activities by which people fill their lives with purpose, meaning and expression.

This fifth area of creation is the part that can involve spiritual exploration, Fitzgerald said.

“We shouldn’t just be focusing on pathology. People are more than their problems. People are more than their addictions,” he said. “I think that what happens is that people over-associate with their problems and they become their problems. A whole other part of intervention is to say, let’s set your problems aside and let’s talk about who you really are, your true nature. What were you meant to do in the world. What were you meant to create?”

Because family members and loved ones are also impacted by addiction, the 5-Action Program includes a page for the larger network of people involved. Links to other resources, such as other free online help, are provided.

“This is not just a program for people struggling with addiction but also for people looking how to help a loved one,” he said.

Linebrink-Allison said the 5-Action Program could be useful for people who aren’t ready yet for formal treatment or who are already in treatment and want additional support. She said the stresses of the pandemic can make it more difficult for people to find help. It also can make them concerned about becoming burdensome or perceived as a problem.

“There is a high concern that the mental health impact of the pandemic is potentially limiting people’s ability to know where to turn and when to turn,” she said. “This platform allows people to find a way to get where they need.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.