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Providing Employment Services in Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Programs: Responses to COVID-19

Karin Martinson, Abt Global, and Susan Scrivener, MDRC


August 27, 2021

Many communities face a crisis stemming from widespread substance misuse. In response, organizations have developed a broad range of programs and services to address both the health and economic success of individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs).  In particular, policymakers and program administrators are increasingly interested in programs that integrate substance use disorder treatment and recovery with employment services, with the aim sustaining people’s recovery while improving their economic success.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, states and localities instituted stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of nonessential businesses. SUD treatment and recovery programs that already served vulnerable populations faced new service-delivery challenges as they responded to increased substance misuse and overdoses, dramatic increases in unemployment, and an unprecedented shift to virtual services.

This brief discusses the operational experiences of seven such programs in the initial months of the COVID-19 crisis so that policymakers and program administrators can understand the challenges they faced and the ways they adapted. It draws on interviews that researchers conducted with program staff during the summer of 2020. The brief was completed as part of the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES) project conducted for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with MDRC.