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“Any drug will consume the addict,” Kim Carlson told a full house on Wednesday evening at Shawbuck’s Press Room in downtown Jamestown. “First you try it, then it kills you.”
Now for the Good News
Recovery is possible, too, and it is happening in Jamestown. The numbers, however, do not yet match the rate of new addiction and overdose deaths. In fact, recovery is difficult, it takes time and it takes a dedicated community because no one can do it alone, according to Rick Huber Chief Executive Officer of The Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County (MHA).
A grassroots, communitywide, long-term rehab program and a facility dedicated to the purpose is the goal Carlson and Huber described to at least 200 local residents who attended two successive evening events, Tuesday and Wednesday, at Shawbuck’s. The first night saw a standing room only crowd of 140 local residents, overflowing to a second gathering the next evening with 60 more in attendance.
“The turnout was overwhelming,” Carlson said. “We believe people know it is the right thing to do.”
A Place for Healing
“We would like to have something in place in six months,” Carlson said. Carlson’s “something” will be just that, a long term, transitional rehab home for recovering opioid addicts. “Only long term rehabilitation works for people recovering from heroin and related addictions,” Huber added.
Paying Their Own Way
It will be important for this plan not to be funded by tax payer dollars, according to Huber. “We must be self-supporting for this to work.”
One of the worst stumbling blocks to success after recovery from opioid addiction, Huber explained, is the stigma of a past addiction. Employers with many candidates to select from will shy away from someone who has had a drug problem or conviction, even if he or she is successful in recovery.
The plan is to run a productive business within the rehab facility. People in recovery can then work, earn an industry appropriate salary, regain the ability and confidence to support themselves and then show a full year of work history to prospective employers after leaving rehab. The business supports both the recovering addicts and the recovery facility, as Huber described the proposed program.
“This is a unique idea,” Huber told to the Gazette. “As far as we know, it has never been tried before. A new business (a number of strong candidates are currently being evaluated) we will bring money into the county instead of spending county tax payers’ money. That old model will never work for long. No local, state or federal government can keep shoveling millions of dollars into every town and county forever. Rehab programs have to be self-sustaining members of the community.”
The new model also uses peer counseling by recovering addicts, with MHA in Jamestown currently the only one of its kind doing so in the State of New York.
Relapse following detoxification alone is extremely common, and therefore detoxification rarely constitutes an adequate treatment of substance dependence on its own.
– World Health Organization 2016
Creating What’s Missing
“The right rehabilitation program is one of the missing components in our drug epidemic,” said Jamestown police chief Harry Snellings. “We welcome every effort to build the capability for better rehab.”
“Transitional housing,” Huber explained, “is a safe place to stay where people can transition to from a maximum allowable 23 hours in a local Emergency Department or a 28-day or 90-day short term rehab program into some place better than the street where they got their last fix…and where they will get the next one if nothing more is done. The relapse rate for short recovery programs tops 80 percent. It takes a full year to relearn the life skills their addiction stole from them.”
Currently, addicts who seek entry to existing, underfunded and poorly equipped programs – whose workers clearly want to do more – are often told they have to wait weeks before they can be admitted. “But two more weeks on the street can be a death sentence,” Huber said. “When an addict is ready, help has to be immediate.”
Local health care institutions are now experiencing a flood of emergency admissions. They are aggressively expanding their ability to provide urgent, immediate care, but the transition to long term care is still the missing piece Chief Snellings referred to.
Enough is Too Much
“We saw 14 heroin overdose deaths in only the first three weeks of March,” Kim Carlson told her audience at Shawbucks, “and my son, Alex, was one of them. It should never happen and we can do something about it right now.”
Missing the Stop Signs
“We missed the signs of the addiction that was taking over our daughter’s life,” the parents of a recently deceased heroin overdose victim said. We just didn’t know what to look for and we wouldn’t have known what to do if we had become suspicious.”
“Raising awareness is Step 1,” Carlson said. “I want to raise a group of volunteers to help educate people and empower them to take action when they see something. I can do little alone, but together we can bring change, awareness and recovery.”
Carlson asked for ideas, suggestions and volunteers to join together with her in fund raising, awareness raising, education and support for families dealing with an addicted love one. “The family goes through just about everything the addict goes through, if they know about the addiction,” Carlson said. “The difficulty and the pain can be overwhelming.”
To learn more, readers are invited to start by logging on to www.mhachautauqua.org.