Public health major sees COVID-19 impact in her duties as a substance abuse nurse

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UNT Dallas student Alisha Wilson

UNT Dallas senior Alisha “Carmen” Wilson is a public health major on track to graduate in fall 2020. Yet as a substance abuse nurse and a psychiatric nurse at separate crisis centers, she is receiving the learning experience of a lifetime during the coronavirus pandemic.

When she’s not studying, Wilson splits her time at the Dallas County Treatment Center, an opioid addiction clinic, and at Serenity Residential Crisis, a suicide and psychiatric clinic. In normal times, her job is to aid those facing personal crises.

However, nothing is normal these days, and the caseloads at both clinics are growing.

“There has definitely been an increase of new patient intake at both clinics,” said Wilson, who was born in Cleburne and raised in Dallas. “Some patients have been clean for years and some continue to use drugs. But, drug usage has been muchheavier during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients are telling me that their reasons for increased usage are stress from the stay-at-home order, concerns about contracting the virus, fear of the unknown, boredom and job loss.”

Wilson said at both clinics, counselors and social workers provide therapy sessions and resources for those dealing with increasingly adverse effects of the virus. 

At Dallas County Treatment Center, Wilson is responsible for dispensing daily methadone to heroin- and benzodiazepine-addicted patients who are seeking to break their dependency. She conducts health screenings, physicals, special education assessments and also submits weekly reports to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Wilson provides the DEA with the weekly totals of methadone dispensed and stored at the clinic.

At Serenity Residential Crisis Center, Wilson helps to diagnose mental health, emotional and substance abuse disorders, and executes risk-assessment and mitigation strategies.

She is seeing similar complications at both of her workplaces.

“Some patients have lost their jobs, and are worried about supporting themselves with no income,” Wilson said. “This triggers their mental health issues, and the only way they know how to cope with this situation is by using drugs.”

Wilson has worked as a substance abuse and psychiatric nurse for nearly two years.

She said local hospitals are seeing an “overwhelming amount of people in the emergency room for suicide attempts and drug overdosing.”

“This is related to the triggers that stem from the virus,” she said.

Wilson encourages the general public to become trained in administering Narcan, a nasal spray which can reverse opioid overdose.

When she graduates in the fall from UNT Dallas, where she is a member of the Classy Chi Upsilon Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Wilson said she will continue to work at both clinics, while adding shifts at Terrell Psychiatric Hospital.