The Centers for Disease Control says substance abuse and overdoses have spiked during the pandemic.

Medical experts say for those trying to get clean, detox is the first step. But for people with a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease, getting sober can have some potentially life-threatening side effects.

"Withdrawal tends to increase the heart rate, increase the blood pressure and that could put a lot more demand on your heart and if you already have coronary artery disease or underlying vascular lesions that (you may not even know about they could really lend it self to having some significant discrete blood flow to the heart which) can result in actually a heart attack," said Dr. Thomas Nappe, who is part of St. Luke's University Health Network's new medical detox unit at Sacred Heart hospital in Allentown.

The 16-bed facility specializes in managing the detox process for those with underlying medical conditions.

"What we're really doing is not necessarily getting substances out of people but managing the symptoms that occur when those substances are already out of them," Nappe said.

Nappe says patients are monitored around the clock, screened, and treated for any life-threatening conditions that might arise.

"Depending on the complexity of the patient's medical concerns and problems the length of stay generally can be roughly two to five days depending on different things," Nappe said.

St. Luke's says it's the only facility of its kind in the region.

Nappe says once the detox process is complete, they help patients take the next step and find a rehab facility for treatment.

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