News & Press

By Mary Pat Rowland 
Posted Jan 1, 2019 at 7:36 PM Updated Jan 2, 2019 at 8:31 AM  

DOVER — A new program to combat the opioid crisis is scheduled to open Wednesday morning in Dover.

The Doorway-NH, created through a state grant awarded to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital and eight other sites in New Hampshire, will not directly treat patients suffering from opioid use disorder and is not located at the hospital.

Instead, Dover’s Doorway, located in a renovated and roomy blue-gray Dutch gambrel at 798 Central Ave. across the street from the hospital, will serve as a hub to assess patients who come through the doors and find the right treatment programs and community-based supports they need to combat their disease. It’s being called a hubs-and-spokes system.

Kellie Mueller, director of Behavior Health at Wentworth-Douglass, said the most important point patients need to know to get through The Doorway is the address, if they are going to visit the facility and the phone number if they want to access it by phone.

Patients can get in touch with The Doorway by using the state’s 211 phone number. Help is just a phone call away and ensures access to assistance beyond the hours of operation at The Doorway office in Dover or one of the other eight sites across the state.

The 211 phone system is hooked into the state’s opioid services line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical center. That after-hours service began on New Year’s Day.

The Doorway in Dover will be open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Mueller said it has been a sprint to the finish line to make sure The Doorway opens Jan. 2 as planned. As of last Friday, there was still a flurry of renovation work ongoing at the Dover site. Workers were laying carpeting inside the former private home and a newly built handicap access ramp had been installed at the entrance.

Mueller said a team of about 40 people at Wentworth-Douglass had been working in overdrive on the project and, after the grant was finally approved on Oct. 31, they only had about eight weeks to get the program up and running and the building renovated and ready.

The hospital donated the gambrel for The Doorway’s use and paid for all the renovations, which, Mueller said, is “amazing and generous.”

Neither the site nor the renovations were part of the state grant used to create the hub-and-spokes program, Mueller said. The gambrel has been transformed to include a reception and waiting area, three private interview rooms for patients and an upstairs work space for staff members, according to Mueller.

The state sought the $45.8 million State Opioid Response grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration over the next two years to make addiction treatment more accessible for New Hampshire residents.

Some of the money, about $8.8 million, went toward the establishment of the nine regional hubs. The Doorway in Dover is for all Strafford County residents and those residing in Rockingham County communities on the Seacoast, including the Portsmouth area, Mueller said.

Besides The Doorway in Dover, six other regional hubs in the state are affiliated with hospitals, including Concord, Berlin, Hanover, Keene, Laconia and Littleton. Two other hubs – one in Nashua, the other in Manchester, are affiliated with Granite Pathways, an organization already providing some of those hub services, Mueller said.

How the hubs will work

Mueller, 49, who holds a master’s degree in counseling, and has worked at the hospital more than 20 years in social work and behavioral health, said patients coming through The Doorway will be greeted in the newly renovated reception area and waiting room. From there they will go to one of three private interview rooms where they will meet with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), who will assess their substance use problem and other issues that may be standing in the way of their recovery.

“The intent of the hub is to assess the patient and their full gamut of needs — insurance, substance abuse, mental health, finances, housing, all of their needs — understanding that all of those pieces affect people’s access to treatment and recovery,” Mueller said. The Doorway is the hub that will connect patients with existing services or the spokes — so they can begin their recovery.

The Doorway will also provide ongoing case management using a care coordinator who follows up and makes sure patients are connecting with the services that have been recommended to them, Mueller said.

There will also be a Certified Recovery Support Worker (CRSW), a “grassroots person” who encourages the patients from a peer-based perspective to partake of the services recommended to them, according to Mueller.

One of the challenges for all the hubs in New Hampshire is the lack of LADCs throughout the state, Mueller said. The Doorway in Dover has come up with a solution to that shortage by using the program’s administrator, Peter Fifield to play the dual role of running the program and doing patient assessments, Mueller said.

Fifield, 48, has the passion and knowledge needed to make the program successful, according to Mueller. Fifield has a doctorate degree and holds dual licenses as a clinical mental health counselor and licensed drug and alcohol counselor. He has worked in the field for 12 years, including at Families First.

Fifield said the main mission of The Doorway is to coordinate and collaborate with other services.

The assessments are a key component of the mission. “We will troubleshoot to help patients get the level of care they need,” Fifield said. That helps to identify barriers to recovery and will help to better allocate recovery resources, Fifield said. Not everyone, for instance, needs a bed in a treatment facility to begin their journey toward recovery. Some patients do well in community-based programs if they have a stabile living situation or other barriers are removed, such as lack of health insurance.

Mueller also hopes The Doorway will lead to better allocation of services. “The hub will make sure that those who truly need a bed will get those referrals and others will be assessed and perhaps referred to lower levels of services. Our job is to determine the level of care and better match up the needs to the resources,” she said.

Concerns about spokes

Mueller acknowledges that spokes coming off the hubs such as the one in Dover may not be as plentiful or sturdy as they could be, adding part of the role of the hubs is to advocate for more spokes.

John Burns, director of the Dover- and Rochester-based SOS Recovery Community Organization, said he is hopeful about The Doorway, but also has serious reservations about those spokes.

“I think it makes sense. I’m optimistic,” Burns said of The Doorway. “The concern that’s going to be difficult to navigate is the capacity of the spokes doesn’t exist. If there’s not any place to go after assessment where do we go? If there’s no safe housing, outpatient treatment, in-patient treatment, where do we go? I like the concept, but it’s going to take a while. You can’t navigate people into a black hole that doesn’t exist,” Burns said.

The federal grant money that rained down on New Hampshire was welcome in the state in which a projected 437 people are expected to have died statewide due to overdoses by the end 2018, down from 488 in 2017 and 485 in 2016, according to the latest drug death data from the state’s chief medical examiner’s officer.

“It’s good that it’s getting better, but the numbers are abominable,” Burns said recently.

Burns said the money doesn’t immediately increase treatment capacity or access to other services that make a difference for opioid users. Burns claims recovery services in New Hampshire continue to be swamped and have deep waiting lists. In addition, unstable housing is one of the biggest barriers to recovery, according to Burns, and he hasn’t seen state grant money helping with that.

“Money doesn’t mean those things will be provided overnight. To have that amount of money dropped and be truly operational on Day 1 is unrealistic,” Burns said.

He said he isn’t taking shots at the hubs-and-spokes model, but views it more as a starting point than an immediate solution. The model, he said, has been in operation for five years in Vermont where they have just now started seeing an end to waiting lists for treatment.

Burns is also concerned that the opioid grant funding does not address other substance use problems such as alcoholism, which still kills many New Hampshire residents, or the growing threats from the resurgence of crystal meth and cocaine.

Mueller acknowledges the grant funding is specific for the opioid crisis, but said The Doorway in Dover won’t turn people away if they have other substance use problems revealed during assessment and will try to connect them with services no matter what substance problem they are suffering from.

She also emphasized the collaborative role she hopes The Doorway plays in the community. She said there have been a lot of conversations with SOS and other providers and that the Doorway is ready to help.

“We want to streamline things for patients, not to make it more complicated. SOS is a good example of good programs already existing in the community,” Mueller said.

One of the biggest strengths of The Doorway, according to Mueller, is the contract with the state demands ongoing patient follow-ups, which are designed to prevent people from falling through the cracks.

What the public needs to know

Mueller said Wentworth-Douglass will be hosting a public information forum about The Doorway on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 9:30 a.m. in the Garrison Auditorium at the hospital. Mueller, Fifield and some representatives from the state will be there to explain the program and answer questions.

Gov. Chris Sununu encourages the public to attend local forums, which will be held at all nine The Doorway sites in the state over the next several weeks. “The Doorway-NH represents a new, comprehensive and local response to the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement. “It will provide a single point of entry for residents seeking treatment for Substance Use Disorder. The location of each of the nine Doorways will ensure that help for substance use disorder will be less than an hour away. This new approach will provide an integrated, one-stop-shop model offering the full array of treatment, recovery and self-sufficiency services.”

New Hampshire is on track to close 2018 with its first decrease in fatal overdoses since 2012. While area recovery leaders and law enforcement officials say it’s a positive sign, they stress it shouldn’t obscure the fact that significant work still needs to be done regarding opioids.

According to the latest drug death data from the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, a projected 437 people will have died statewide due to overdoses by the end of the year, down from 488 in 2017 and 485 in 2016.

“It’s good that it’s getting better, but the numbers are abominable,” said John Burns, the director of the Dover- and Rochester-based SOS Recovery Community Organization. “One is unacceptable… It’s kind of the somber reminder, ‘Let’s not get all giddy with this.’ We’ve seen it flat and now we’ve seen it decline. Great. I don’t want anyone to lose sight just how devastating this is.”

Rather than showing a significant improvement in the opioid crisis, Burns and Dover police Lt. Brant Dolleman are among those who said the numbers show key efforts — like the increase in Narcan availability and the area’s continually expanding assistance — are starting to yield more measurable results.

“I don’t see it as a lot better,” Dolleman said of the picture painted by local and state drug death data. “Fewer overdoses are reported to police, not that there are fewer overdoses. I think there are more of those who survive and never end up with a police or paramedic response because there’s more Narcan out there for civilians to use, and that’s a good thing because people are surviving overdoses.”

The opioid crisis and its effects were among the top storylines of 2018, much as they have been in previous years.

The year included a number of notable developments, such as the state’s new hub-and-spoke treatment model.

Starting in January 2019, the model will use $45.8 million in federal funds over the next two years to increase access to recovery services and medically assisted treatment, as well as reduce opioid deaths and unmet treatment needs.

The hub-and-spoke name comes from the fact that the state will use nine regional hubs to facilitate a unified healthcare system. From those hubs, other local care providers will serve as the spokes that carry the services further into the communities. Dover’s Wentworth-Douglass Hospital will serve as the Seacoast’s hub.

Some of 2018′s stories covered trends, such as the fact that new, stronger forms of fentanyl are continuing to replace heroin as the primary illicit narcotic on the streets.

That trend is supported by the medical examiner’s Dec. 7 report. The report indicates fentanyl was the sole cause of 161 of the 330 fatal overdoses confirmed to date (with 83 cases still pending), while heroin accounted for only one fatal overdose. Two other cases were caused by a combination of fentanyl and heroin, according to the state.

Other trends included hospitals reporting continued upticks in the number of opioid-related emergency cases they see, as well as a renewed surge in crystal meth in the area. Officials say the latter could be due to a misconception meth is safer than opioids.

“There are a lot of people out there that stay away from opioids, they know how dangerous it is, but they figure, ‘It’s safer to use crystal meth,’” David Mara, Gov. Chris Sununu’s advisor on addiction, told Seacoast Media Group in July. “Which is really not the case.”

The year also served as another in which high-profile opioid deaths reverberated throughout the community.

Among them was lobsterman Josiah Beringer. Beringer overdosed July 10 aboard his beloved vessel, the F/V Patricia Lynn II, while it was docked at Badger’s Island in Kittery, Maine.

Beringer’s story went viral because his death occurred a few months after he was asked to leave a rehabilitation clinic in Manchester because he didn’t have health insurance. According to area officials, Beringer’s death serves as a snapshot of a healthcare problem that plagues the New England fishing and lobstering community, among other local industries.

Other fatal overdoses that had an effect on 2018 included the December 2017 death of Abi Lizotte, the young mother who inspired the creation of Rochester’s Hope on Haven Hill in 2016.

Hope on Haven Hill officials say Lizotte’s memory and struggle were at the front of their minds this year as they worked to open a new transitional recovery house to help others like Lizotte. The new facility will open in Rochester in spring 2019 and be named Abi’s Place in honor of Lizotte.

On the law enforcement side, local and federal agencies jointly made Strafford County’s largest-ever fentanyl bust when they arrested a man allegedly involved in a multimillion-dollar trafficking operation in Rochester in September.

Timothy Lafond, 40, of River Street in Rochester, allegedly admitted to investigators following his Sept. 17 arrest that he buys 1 to 2 kilograms of the controlled drug every two to three days and distributes it out of an apartment in the Lilac City’s downtown, according to an affidavit in the federal case’s court paperwork.

Federal officials have previously told national news outlets that a kilogram of fentanyl could be worth $1 million on the street. In addition to his alleged claims about the volume of his sales, Lafond was allegedly found in possession of roughly 2.88 kilograms of fentanyl when he was arrested, according to the affidavit.

Lafond faces potential federal indictment on one felony count of distribution of controlled substances and one felony count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The indictment deadline has been extended out to Jan. 20, 2019, to allow the government and Lafond further opportunity to discuss options for resolving the case ahead of an indictment, according to court records.

At the same time as arrests like Lafond’s made headlines in 2018, area law enforcement officials like Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint continued to be adamant that New Hampshire can’t arrest its way out of the opioid crisis.

Hub and spoke provides reason for optimism, they said, as do a variety of other local-level recovery, prevention and harm-reduction efforts up and down the Seacoast.

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ROCHESTER — A “Never Alone Christmas Celebration and Potluck Dinner” will be hosted by SOS Recovery Community Organization from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, Dec. 25 at its Rochester SOS Recovery Community Center located at 63 S. Main St.

Recovery meetings will be held throughout the day and a potluck dinner will be held at 1 p.m. There will also be cookie decorating for both young and old. All are invited to attend, including children.

“We are delighted to be able to utilize our space during the holidays to provide safe spaces with recovery based meetings for individuals to seek and maintain their recovery,” says John Burns, director of SOS RCO. “Our spaces are open to anyone seeking or maintaining their recovery and for those who may or may not have family to spend the holiday with this year.”

According to Kila Downum, an SOS Capacity Building Specialist at the Rochester Center, the holidays can be a difficult time for some people in recovery.

“I spent several Christmases alone and it was the most painful time of my life,” says Downum, “I don’t think anyone should every have to be alone on Christmas no matter what.”

People are invited to bring a dish to share, if possible, and to attend one or more meetings throughout the day.

The mission of SOS RCO is to reduce the stigma and harm associated with substance misuse by providing a safe space and peer based supports for people in all stages of recovery. SOS RCO is a program of Goodwin Community Health, which provides access to primary, dental, prenatal, and behavioral health care as well as community wellness and public health services in Strafford County. For more information about SOS Recovery Community Organization, go to www.SOSRCO.org or call (603) 841-2350.

DOVER — For those seeking a substance-free environment to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, Southeastern New Hampshire Drug & Alcohol Services and SOS Recovery Organization have teamed up to provide such a place.

Starting Wednesday at 5 p.m. and continuing until Thursday at 4 p.m., the two organizations will provide food, a place to gather and a variety of events to commune with others, from 12-step meetings to yoga to Refuge Recovery to give additional support during the holiday. It takes place at Southeastern’s facility at the Strafford County complex on County Farm Road in Dover.

“The holidays are a tough time of year for a lot of people who struggle with substance misuse,” said John Burns, the director of SOS Recovery Organizations. The holidays can be especially challenging for those early in recovery, he said, noting that often a person’s substance misuse has affected the entire family, and reconnecting can be a struggle.

Last year, SOS held its own event but decided to join forces this year with SENHS, which has held its annual “alcathon” for the past 13 years. “Partnering with SOS allows us to further expand the multiple pathways that we can expose people to during the holiday, and allow for ongoing opportunities for success in recovery,” said Nick Pfeifer, chief executive officer of Southeastern.

Jessica Hamilton, Southeastern’s development manager, said the event takes place downstairs of Southeastern’s facility. They will bring lamps, hang Christmas lights and tea lights to light the room to give it a homey feeling, she said. They’ll have a turkey, and those who attend are welcomed to bring a potluck dish to share.

“People can come anytime they want,” she said, whether it is for an hour in the middle of the night, or to stay for the entire event.

Everybody is welcome, even those who are not in recovery, such as a family member. “It can give struggling families hope to see how many people are in recovery and leading productive and healthy lives,” Burns said.

SOS is a peer-led recovery community organization while Southeastern is a treatment facility. SOS, in its locations in Dover and Rochester, provides recovery supports through multiple pathways and holds a variety of peer recovery services including recovery coaching, telephone recovery supports, crisis navigation, and a variety of activities such as yoga, art and music in recovery and social activities. Its mission is to reduce stigma and harm associated with substance use and misuse by providing safe space and peer-based supports for people in all stages of recovery.

Southeastern is a treatment facility that offers outpatient counseling, residential programming, impaired driver care management program, intensive outpatient programming and drug court.

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By Kyle Stucker 
Posted Sep 25, 2018 at 10:12 PM Updated Sep 26, 2018 at 10:24 AM  

ROCHESTER — Several members of the Rochester’s City Council say they’re not happy with how the city has handled cease and desist orders served to SOS Recovery Community Organization and Dover Adult Learning Center over a zoning issue.

From the lack of communication with City Council before the order temporarily shut down SOS and DALC Friday afternoon and Saturday, to the city’s lack of advance warning and deadlines to the organizations themselves, city councilors say they’re upset and hope city staff are more transparent moving forward.

“I want to get to the bottom of what happened and why this happened,” said Ward 2 Councilor Elaine Lauterborn, expressing concern that the order was served at the end of the week at a time when few people were around. “I think the whole thing needs looking into.”

“It blew my mind,” said fellow Ward 2 Councilor Sandra Keans, who is also a state representative.

Even though city charter and state statutes don’t dictate code enforcement actions must be approved by city councilors, Ward 5 Councilor Robert Gates said he felt City Council should’ve been included because SOS has been the subject of several recent meetings, including one in which councilors increased the funding the city allocates to support SOS’ nonmedical recovery center.

“I do think we should’ve been involved in this, whether through an open City Council meeting, an emergency City Council meeting or a nonpublic (session),” said Gates.

SOS and DALC both utilize spaces within First Church Congregational at 63 South Main St. Since mid July, the city has been looking into whether SOS and DALC’s various programs and activities constitute a change in use for the church, according to City Manager Blaine Cox.

SOS and DALC have utilized space within First Church for 2 and 10 years, respectively. Other organizations also use rooms within the church, but they weren’t served cease and desist orders Friday afternoon.

Cox has said city staff served the orders independent of his office because SOS and DALC hadn’t outlined, as requested by the city, their usage of First Church in a proper version of the city’s project narrative form. The organizations had submitted a written statement in lieu of the form earlier this month, and representatives from each said they thought it was sufficient because they heard nothing back from the city.

As the organizations each face another cease and desist order Wednesday if they don’t submit proper project narrative forms, city councilors say the city needs to handle the matter more diplomatically given the populations the organizations serve.

“I think the communication could have been handled a lot better, that’s for sure,” said Ward 4 Councilor Dave Walker. “This is a straight-up simple … violation that needs to get taken care of. It should have been handled differently.”

Councilors also say overall communication needs improvement on all sides as things progress.

“There’s a lot of issues in what’s being requested and what’s being given,” said Deputy Mayor Ray Varney. “It seems there’s some opportunity for improvement from both (sides).”

Varney added that he wished city officials had notified City Council shortly after the cease and desist orders were served and that he doesn’t believe city councilors needed to be notified ahead of time because they “have no part in the decision making.”

Several elected officials and social service agency leaders from throughout the area expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s actions on Facebook and Twitter. Like several of Rochester’s city councilors, a number of those individuals also posted that they believe the city of Rochester has larger issues to focus on and should be careful when potentially shutting down agencies that combat the region’s opioid crisis, rising homelessness and other issues.

“As a Board member of DALC and a strong supporter of @SOS_RCO, I urge Rochester to treat the church, these organizations, and the people they serve with respect, not threats,” tweeted state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover. “A community cannot attract jobs and businesses unless it embraces these services.”

SOS, DALC, First Church and the city are reportedly continuing their talks about the form and city’s zoning concerns as Wednesday’s deadline approaches.

SOS Director John Burns has said his organization has hired a land use attorney to assist them in the process. He said he was unable to provide updates about his agency’s project narrative form Tuesday.

Ward 3 City Councilor Tom Abbott said he’s withholding his judgment of the city’s actions and zoning concerns until final decisions are made, however, he said he’d like to see the city ultimately find a way to “make it work” with SOS, DALC and First Church.

Councilor Ralph Torr, who came under fire for his remarks about the nature of addiction before he voted against giving SOS more money this summer, said he didn’t have anything to say Tuesday because he was out of town all weekend and had no knowledge of what had transpired.

Not all city councilors could be reached for comment before this story went to press.

While Gates was upset City Council wasn’t kept in the loop, he did say he agreed with the city’s decision Monday to impose a deadline of Wednesday. He said the city must firmly stand its ground and that he doesn’t believe a two-day turnaround is unreasonable given that the sides have been in communication about the usage of First Church since July.

“You can’t let these things go on,” said Gates.

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DOVER — SOS Recovery Community Organization held its annual Recovery Rally at Henry Law Park on Sunday, rocking the park with music and fun, but also raising awareness about the good work they and other recovery agencies in the area are doing to lead the fight against substance abuse.

John Burns, director of SOS Recovery, said the event celebrates National Recovery Month. The day was filled with music, and there were speakers from agencies working to end the cycle of addiction. A concert was planned for later in the evening at the Rochester Opera House.

State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, is a strong supporter of substance abuse resources. He told the crowd he has been in recovery for 34 years. He said the state has made strides but still has a way to go.

One of the day’s speakers was Amy Cloutier of the Process Recovery Center in Hudson. She gave an inspirational speech on her struggles with addiction and her rise to a way out. She will always be addicted but is determined to never use again and now helps others do the same.

“I was an alcoholic by the time I was 15,” said Cloutier. “I was on heroin by 18. I slept in parks like this one. I was in a dark place and in New Hampshire there was a real lack of resources. I feel I struggled longer than I should have. My son was born opiate dependent. My inner voice told me I was not a good mother, a good daughter. I was not good. I couldn’t see my own value. Someone held my hand and walked the road with me. I want to do the same for others. My mission is to show that we can recover.. We can live differently.”

Among the recovery agencies on hand were the Triangle Club, R.O.A.D. to a better life, Granite Recovery, the Farnum Center, Aware Recovery, Families First, Safe Harbor, Sober Sisters Addiction Recovery Services, New Hampshire Healthy Families, Hope on Haven Hill and Southeastern NH Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services.

“Three years ago, this didn’t happen,” said Kerry Norton, director of Hope on Haven Hill. “We floated recovery down the streets at every parade, just trying to be seen. Look around you now and see all the amazing recovery happening. It gives me chills. People see the bad outcomes, but they really need to see the good that is happening because of the dedication of all these groups.”

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ROCHESTER — Lots of good old-fashioned fun was happening in the Lilac City on Sunday as SOS Recovery held their second annual Rock the Block party.

SOS Recovery offers peer-based addiction recovery support and part of their goal at the event was being on hand to offer information to anyone who might be seeking help.

“It’s a family block party,” said Elizabeth Atwood, capacity building specialist for SOS. “It’s free fun, with music, food and lots of kids’ activities. We do it to raise awareness that recovery is real and that we are still in town.”

“SOS is a program of Goodwin Health,” said John Burns, director. “We have seen some increase here since Frisbie closed their center here. But a lot of our people went to both places so the increase has not been too large.”

SOS made hot dogs, and Dominos pizza was on hand, volunteering their time to help feed the guests. SOS had an information table, as did Journey House, which provides low cost sober living houses for men and women in Maine.

Mario Phillips of Rochester was the volunteer in the dunk tank. He said he is a client of SOS, 17 months sober, and loves to help out the agency he credits with saving his life.

“Everyone in town knows me,” said Phillips. “I am the funny man in the city. People will come to this event just to dunk me.”

Phillips’ first contender was Congressional candidate Lincoln Soldati. Phillips took great pleasure in taunting Soldati for his misses.

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ROCHESTER — More than 100 people packed City Hall on Tuesday night in response to a 64-signature community petition requesting City Council force SOS Recovery Community Organization to relocate its center from the church of a basement on South Main Street.

From individuals who say they’d be dead or that the city’s opioid problem would be worse without the center, to petitioners who feel SOS and the church are directly enabling criminal activity that is endangering downtown, councilors heard impassioned remarks from 20 individuals during a 90-minute public comment session.

Two individuals spoke in support of the petition, 15 people spoke in defense of SOS, and three expressed concerns about downtown without directly attributing SOS or the church as a contributing factor. Each group of speakers drew applause from the standing-room-only crowd at various points, eventually leading Mayor Caroline McCarley at one point to request that attendees refrain from applauding.

Ultimately, City Council took no action on the request, which some local leaders have deemed an attack on recovery services and a dehumanization of vulnerable community members. Councilors didn’t take any action because they already unanimously voted to deny the petition during their last meeting on July 10, doing so on the grounds that the city has no legal authority to force a private entity to relocate.

Members of the recovery community present Tuesday, many of whom wore black SOS shirts, say the petition’s denial is but a small victory because significant work needs to be done to increase supports and access to services for those who need it. One key step in that process, they say, is to show the petitioners and the greater community that they can take a more direct role in ending the stigma and other factors hurting those efforts.

“We have a choice to make — we can help people or we can step over them and ignore them like they don’t exist and they aren’t human beings,” said Joe Hannon, an SOS peer recovery coach, former state representative and an individual in recovery. “They are human beings and that’s why we’re here… I just think that people need to open their hearts and not just their minds that anyone they see on the street is a human being that could use your help. It could just be a friendly word… We need people to say, “Hello, how are you?′ and mean it.”

The petition alleges drug activity, discarded needles, fights involving deadly weapons, excessive after-hours noise and sexual activity have increased in the area surrounding SOS since the nonprofit agency opened its center inside First Church Congregational’s basement in fall 2016. The petition directly attributes some of these issues to SOS and the church, and claims they have encouraged people from outside Rochester to “come and live” on the property.

Karen Watkins, the Congress Street resident who created the petition, and a resident who identified himself only as a 67-year-old man named Andrew, were the only individuals to speak in support of the petition Wednesday. Andrew told councilors he feels SOS and the church are “enablers” of criminal activity.

“The citizens are out there concerned,” said Andrew, who described himself as someone who has experimented with substances in the past. “They want to see something done. They want to feel safe in their streets, in their businesses and in their homes. I don’t think it’s too much to ask at all, and City Council needs to address it, not hide from it. I shouldn’t be seeing repeated drug use 100 yards from the police station. And why? There are no consequences.”

SOS Executive Director John Burns, employees of SOS and representatives of First Church Congregational all heavily refuted the claims made by the petition and speakers like Andrew. They said Rochester’s issues are the same issues facing communities throughout the state and country. They also said the issues predate SOS and that the reason why SOS chose South Main Street is because of the number people in downtown who would benefit from recovery and peer support services.

After the meeting, Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint emphasized SOS and the church are “not the problem.”

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ROCHESTER — For Elizabeth Atwood, it was hard not to get emotional Thursday during the grand reopening celebration of SOS Recovery Community Organization’s newly expanded Rochester Community Recovery Center.

A year and a half ago, SOS was “scraping by” in Rochester on a $5,000 budget while the region’s recovery supports were incredibly limited, according to Atwood. While the fight is far from over today, Atwood said packed rooms like the one she stood in front of Thursday served as a reminder for how united every corner of Strafford County has become in the effort to more fully help all people with substance use disorders.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Atwood, the center’s capacity building specialist. “I think it’s an honor to be a part of something as amazing as this and to watch SOS just blow up. I think we’re going to go to some pretty great places.”

Over 80 people attended the grand reopening of SOS’s center, which is located at 63 South Main St. within First Church Congregational. Attendees represented a bevy of Strafford County recovery support providers, social service agencies, local residents, city officials and political leaders who have played key roles in stemming the opioid crisis.

The church recently allowed SOS to expand its space with the building from 500 to 2,000 square feet. With that expansion, SOS has extended its hours and it’ll be able to serve more individuals as it continues its mission to reduce stigma and harm associated with substance misuse, according to SOS Director John Burns.

Burns said the partnership with the church has been “invaluable,” as SOS wouldn’t have been able to expand that greatly in a commercial environment. He said having 2,000 square feet of space is “like gold” in the recovery community, and he believes it’ll go a long way in building the human connections and safe environment that is vital to individuals in all stages of recovery.

“This world can be very lonely and isolated for those of us when we’re suffering and for family members,” said Burns. “SOS is about getting rid of that isolation and providing that peer support and wrapping our arms around people and giving them the connection and the love they deserve so they can live a loving and fulfilling life.”

While progress is being made at the federal level, the $3.3 billion recently set aside by President Donald Trump’s administration to fund recovery supports is a drop in the bucket, according to U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., one of several political leaders present Thursday.

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As treatment pathways and recovery organizations continue to grow throughout the Seacoast, so too has the number of locals questioning their effectiveness as high-profile overdose deaths are reported throughout various community channels.

According to local recovery leaders, that doubt isn’t just found in toxic social media commentary about the opioid crisis. It has crept into local meetings and programs. In turn, they say it’s creating a traumatizing ripple effect that undermines support systems while propagating falsehoods about a misunderstood aspect of substance use disorders (SUDs): relapse.

“It’s definitely a struggle to understand why or how someone comes to a setback or relapse,” said Lynn Fuller, the state’s family support coordinator. Fuller has two sons in long-term recovery and their addictions inspired her to create a family support group in Farmington called Circle of Hope. “We have to remind ourselves our people are not cured (just because they’ve been in treatment).”

Recurrences of substance abuse happen throughout all stages of recovery because being in recovery is a never-ending learning process for many, according to individuals like John Iudice, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and program director of Addiction Recovery Services, which has locations in Portsmouth and Salem

“I think as a society we’re very impatient (and) rush to judgment,” said Iudice. “And it’s even modeled by a lot of our leaders, and that just promotes addiction. It promotes divisiveness, it promotes stigma (and) it promotes ostracizing people, which is just going to isolate people and increase addiction. So as a society, learning to be more patient and learning to stop and try to understand what’s going on with a person before we assume we know everything about how bad they are, that’s going to promote recovery.”

Support, the gateway to healing

Triangle Club Director Autumn Allen said support is the starting point for preventing relapses and de-stigmatizing setbacks. She believes natural support systems are the most important piece in the recovery process next to addressing underlying traumas that contribute to an individual’s substance abuse.

Stable housing, supportive workplaces, education about coping strategies, social interactions where anyone can speak openly without judgment – by giving individuals better access to these things, Allen said the community can better prevent SUDs and help people in recovery withstand the types of stressors that undermine recovery.

“Until we can help people heal, they’re going to continue to relapse,” said Allen. “As a society, I think we expect people to just know how to live (with addiction), but… it takes time and it takes a lot of energy.”

There is no one-size-fits-all, but Allen said a more welcome approach, regardless if someone is using or abstaining, would go a long way. She said it would show people in recovery, and the community as a whole, an individual who relapses isn’t a hopeless cause.

“When somebody relapses and they walk through those doors,” Allen said, tearfully gesturing to the Triangle Club’s facade in Dover, “it’s a celebration. There aren’t many places that offer second chances, especially to (substance users). And we hear it all the time – ‘If they just didn’t use, they wouldn’t have a problem.’ Well, that’s not fixing anything.

“Anytime there is a relapse, or an overdose that results in death, it’s a retraumatization for everyone who comes into these halls. There is a sense of mortality that is glaring you in the face, but for some individuals it also (makes them question), ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I trying so hard to stay sober if so-and-so couldn’t make it?’”

The pedestal

It’s common for the media and recovery organization literature to promote the successes of individuals in recovery. It can show others they too can succeed. One such example is Safe Harbor Recovery Center’s Ryan Fowler. Seacoast Media Group featured Fowler in a story last Friday as he thanked the Hampton firefighters who saved him after three overdoses. However, Fowler said there are unintended consequences of this type of publicity that can further engender the shame that prevents people from disclosing recovery setbacks.

″(It) puts an individual with SUD on a pedestal and makes it very difficult to reach out for help when they struggle,” he said, acknowledging individuals highlighted in this way are often young people in early recovery. “Early recovery is about learning humility

 

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