Town hall meeting hopes to ‘break the cycle’
A team of organizers, counselors, individuals in recovery and a candidate for senate shared their history, stories of success and sobering but hopeful statistics during the Allentown leg of “Breaking the Cycle: Communities Against Addiction” held Feb. 10 at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, 3231 W. Tilghman St.
Elizabethtown Pennsylvania’s Blueprints for Addiction Recovery Incorporated launched a series of 15 town hall meetings inviting communities across the commonwealth to join the discussion about the opioid addiction epidemic.
Prior to the meeting, Emmaus High School graduate, CEO of Blueprints for Recovery and event organizer Christopher Dreisbach shared a candid discussion about his continuing recovery.
Dreisbach, passionate about his mission and confident that change is possible, relayed his personal story and path to recovery.
He said his turning point began with his last arrest in 2007 in Allentown that led to a treatment center. The center did not prove to be his catalyst to recovery. Dreisbach noted that treatment centers have evolved greatly in the last 10 years.
His life change began at Alcoholics Anonymous group meetings. Through those meetings, he met peers who understood his addiction, gave hope and shed light on the issue he had not experienced before.
Through that experience, recovery became possible for Dreisbach who learned the importance of opening the doors of communication to others living through addiction.
Dreisbach believes firmly in the adage of “Paying it Forward.”
When asked, with the increased potency and deaths due to addiction in the last several years, whether his experience would have been different had his addiction occurred more recently, Dreisbach replied, “I may not have made it.”
Inside fellowship hall at the church, tables from treatment centers, recovery groups and support groups lined the perimeter walls.
Representatives from each of the groups, many with their own personal experiences of life through an addiction whether their own or that of a loved one, shared information, welcomed questions and spoke freely about the life change.
The common element through the words shared at the meeting was the importance of communication, education and the realization that addiction does not discriminate.
The message from many was that there is hope and success through recovery and the introduction of new medications to prevent relapse by blocking receptors in the brain or by modifying the intensity of the “high.”
Vivitrol, an antagonist treatment, can be used after a patient has been opioid or alcohol free for a period of at least a week.
Suboxone, used with Naloxone, is a form of drug therapy which lessens the effectiveness of opioids.
Both forms of treatment need to be monitored closely by a physician or treatment counselor.
With the increase in opioid related deaths, came an eventual increase in attention by the media, and the realization that addiction can strike anywhere.
As evident in the room, on social media, life with an addiction crosses all lines of socioeconomic status, age groups and education tiers.
From Hollywood to Hamburg, the lives of some of the most brilliant people are touched by addiction.
No one’s life dream is to be an addict.
Matthew Reeves, CEO of The Estates by New Life and a person living in longtime recovery was the first speaker.
Reeves said he grew up in Hershey with loving parents and all the comforts afforded to him but expressed he always felt “disconnected” from life, wondering “what the point was.”
The journey through alcoholism addiction for Reeves began in his teenage years and changed his dreams of a successful college education to a life of deceit and crime in his pursuit of the effects from his addiction.
When presented with the alternative of jail or treatment, Reeves said he reluctantly chose the latter.
According to Reeves, though treatment went well, his turning point came when he entered a recovery house following his 30-day treatment program.
“Whatever these guys were doing, I had to get to that.”
Reeves explained the residents at the home gave him hope and through their own successes and mentoring, he started developing meaningful relationships on a deeper level.
“I then started rebuilding and developing my relationship with my dad and then a loving relationship with my mother and brother, who wanted nothing to do with me at the time of my rehab.
“Today I am able to live life with integrity, have values, act accordingly. I don’t have to compromise myself,” Reeves said.
Through his successful life changes, a door opened which allowed Reeves to own the recovery house where he had gained his footing.
Chelsea Senic, partial hospitalization counselor at Blueprints for Addiction Recovery, presented sobering 2016 statistics from the American Society for Addiction Medicine from 2016.
“Drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the United States and four out of five heroin users began their addiction through opioid painkillers.”
Senic also noted the rate of drug overdose deaths has tripled in the last 20 years.
Through her years as an addiction counselor, Senic remarked she has hope and has been inspired by her clients when they experience their breakthroughs.
Senic said she uses “communication theory” in her work with her clients.
“Communication is the center of everything – how we relate to others, share our feelings and interpret our relationships. This is vital for a successful future.”
“In order to have internal and external control over your life, you must learn new behaviors and methods to deal with the stressors.”
For families living with addiction, Senic advised them to examine online resources, become educated, attend family counseling meetings and internal meetings with family members, connect with peers individually and through the non-judgmental space of AA meetings.
“It is also important to stay in touch with your personal joy, do things that make you happy.”
According to Senic, the stigma regarding addiction remains.
“As a society, we continue to speak and judge situations that we have minimal education or experience with. It is frustrating that I continue to have conversations about drug or alcohol that involve the word “choice.”
Clinical director and a person in long-term recovery, James Crossan adamantly echoed many of the thoughts of Senic.
“It’s a lot of work keeping the lid off the jar.”
Crosson’s experience began with his father’s alcoholism which poured into his own 45-year journey through addiction.
“Addiction begins as an escape – a curiosity, fun, but for some, turns into a life sentence.”
As a counselor, Crossan expressed the stigma surrounding addiction and highlighted some of the titles given throughout the journey and the identity of an addict – a transient, a criminal, a prisoner, a number.
As a person in long-term recovery, the descriptives change to doubt, fear, change, resolve and hope.
Looking around at the empty chairs in the room, Crossan noted meetings regarding addiction should fill a venue akin to the PPL Center.
“Until the lightning bolt strikes the tree, it is hard for people to mobilize a society. Though there aren’t any empty seats to fill the demand for drugs.”
“Without the mobilization of the community, the communication about the epidemic, it will continue to double and triple.”
According to Crosson, addiction needs to grab and hold the attention of politicians.
Libertarian Dale Kerns, current candidate for Bob Casey’s U.S. Senate seat, attended the event and talked about a bill he has sponsored to open free markets in an attempt to address addiction.
After suffering through his mother’s addiction and the loss of his cousin Dan through an overdose, Kerns drafted, “The Addiction is Not a Crime” bill.
Kerns, the final speaker of the event, choked back tears as he relayed his mother’s battle with alcoholism, the death of his cousin and other friends and acquaintances.
To gain awareness and support for the bill, Kerns said he is traveling across the commonwealth to illuminate the failing judicial system and for-profit prison system.
“The notion that we allow prisons to make money off of keeping individuals who are incarcerated is just disgusting.”
Kerns remarked that the war on drugs has an incarceration rate of 800 percent.
“I would like to remove the federal government and regulations from the process allowing patients, doctors, treatment facilities and others in the community to address the problem of addiction using free market processes, removing the cartels, street level dealers and gangs and rendering them obsolete.”
Kerns believes that by removing the “deadly dose” from the streets and the federal government’s involvement, addiction can be more successfully addressed.
Attendee Bill Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Alliance, questioned Kern’s ability to move government to change.
“In the past, we tried to break this office and haven’t been successful; how are you going to be successful doing this?”
Kerns replied that as a society, we have to make the change through voting and becoming more engaged in politics.
“Anybody in this room can run for candidacy to make change happen.”
For more information on “Breaking the Cycle” town hall meetings, visit the Blueprint for Addiction Recovery website www.blueprintsrecovery.com or Facebook.com/BlueprintsRecovery.