N.H. recovery center opens its doors

Last modified: 7/9/2015 12:10:54 AM
Gary Croteau stopped drinking and doing drugs in 1983. But more than 30 years later, he still regularly attends peer support meetings.

It’s part of his responsibility, he says, as someone who is in long-term recovery.

“It reminds me of where I come from,” said Croteau, who helped found the Keene Serenity Center, a drop-in meeting place for those in recovery. “The most important thing is new people come in, and without old people being there – people that have experience and have stayed in recovery – there would be no one to teach them.”

When people get out of substance abuse treatment, it’s really just the beginning of the recovery process, which includes years of maintaining sobriety and learning to live with an addiction.

“When you get out, all of a sudden your real life is going on around you,” said Cheryle Pacapelli, director of Recovery Policy and Advocacy at New Futures. “You need to learn to be in recovery in the outside world.”

Many officials and advocates say a successful strategy to fully tackle the state’s substance abuse problem needs to include investments in prevention, treatment and recovery.

Recovery services are an important component because they can help keep addicts from relapsing and repeatedly cycling through costly treatment programs. In some cases, community recovery supports can take the place of expensive treatment and counseling programs altogether.

Yet, while the state has directed resources to treatment and prevention, it has historically invested little money into recovery support. New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a state-funded recovery community center.

Just last year, the Legislature voted to include the term “recovery” in the official title of a state commission that oversees substance abuse funding. The commission’s name already included “prevention” and “treatment.”

In the state’s absence, a grassroots recovery effort has emerged that is mostly composed of people in long-term recovery trying to help others maintain sobriety.

As a result, the existing recovery infrastructure in New Hampshire is largely funded by private dollars. It consists of sober houses, where people can live with others in recovery; transitional housing sponsored by treatment centers; and local clubs that offer 12-step recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now, the statewide organization Hope for New Hampshire Recovery is working to develop a formalized network of recovery community centers across New Hampshire.

The nonprofit, funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, opened its first official recovery community center in Manchester this summer. It hopes to launch another in Portsmouth within the year.

The concept is peer-driven support, where people who are already in long-term recovery help others who are just beginning the transition.

“It’s a resource for the community where people can come for help,” said Cheryl Coletti, a board member at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery. “Whether someone is struggling with an alcohol addiction, whether families are looking for support to ask questions, we’re here to help people sustain their recovery, which is always the greatest challenge.”

The Manchester Recovery Community Center, on the ground floor of a Market Street building, has already opened its doors. The center will be staffed largely by volunteers and funded through private grants and donations.

But even though the building is open, the center won’t launch full-scale programming, like counsel sessions, until mid-July.

It plans to offer peer coaching and telephone recovery support services, which is a check-in call made once a week to someone who has recently left treatment. The end goal is to have a statewide addiction phone number people can call if they need assistance or recovery support.

A similar telephone check-in program in Connecticut effectively kept people from relapsing once they left treatment, said Pacapelli, who was previously executive director of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery. In a sample of 483 people who received the calls for three months, 58 reported they had relapsed. And of those 58, continued telephone support led 70 percent back into recovery.

“These things work,” Pacapelli said. “Imagine the cost savings for this really simple program.”

Pacapelli hopes the first recovery community centers will act as models and incubators for the future. Hope for New Hampshire Recovery envisions a community center in each of the state’s 13 public health networks, and the nonprofit plans to offer support to communities looking to set up their own.

“Peer-to-peer recovery support services are missing in New Hampshire,” said Melissa Crews, chairwoman of the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery board. “Our goal is to help communities expand recovery support services in whatever way their community decides is best.”

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but not impossible. And it comes at a time when the grassroots support is growing and the state is looking to invest more money in recovery services.

“These recovery support services are low-cost and a good investment to protect what we have already put in for investment in treatment services,” said Joe Harding, director of the state Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.

But officials at the Manchester center aren’t holding their breath for state and federal money, which is why it is moving forward on a private grant-based model.

“To be able to have something like this and not depend on federal and state funds is huge,” Coletti said. “That’s not to say we don’t need funding.”

Aside from money, the state’s growing recovery community faces a range of obstacles.

One, Crews said, is a lack of data about the effectiveness of recovery supports in New Hampshire. She hopes the centers will begin to collect that information.

Another challenge, Pacapelli said, is figuring out where to put the centers so they best serve the communities.

“Every community in New Hampshire is going to want one,” Pacapelli said. “There’s only so much money. How’s it going to get split?”

Some communities have already started developing their own recovery infrastructure. Two years ago, Croteau helped found Keene Serenity Center, which offers a place to meet for 12-step programs and other recreational activities.

Croteau formed the center because he saw a need in the community. Word has spread, and what began with a couple of participants now counts more than 30 members.

The organization is still growing and plans to expand its services to include job training and more extensive recovery programs, said Keene Serenity Center board member Polly Morris.

The biggest barrier is the stigma surrounding addiction, Morris said.

“There’s a need for the recovery center, there’s a need for recovery support, but I don’t think we’re there yet because of the stigma,” she said. “It’s a slow methodical progression that can happen and will.”

People in recovery have been afraid to talk about it for fear of backlash and judgment, said Coletti, who has been in long-term recovery for 3½ years. Oftentimes when people think about addiction and recovery, she said, they often picture someone in the gutter with a brown paper bag.

The Manchester center is hoping to combat those stigmas, in part by offering language training, which will teach people to talk about their own recovery in a positive way.

“For me, recovery looks like a great life. Recovery looks like two beautiful children who love me. I’m a great mom, I’m a great friend, a successful business person,” Coletti said. “There was a time when my life wasn’t great. Now it is.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

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