Recovery Kentucky centers use a supportive program in which the clients hold one another accountable
Laura Ungar wrote these stories for The Courier-Journal as a 2012 National Health Journalism Fellow. Other stories in this series include:
Tucked into the forested hills of Eastern Kentucky is a women’s addiction recovery center with one simple word above its entrance — Hope.
The Cumberland Hope Community in Evarts is one of 10 new, 100-bed Recovery Kentucky centers opened across the state to help people break free of addiction and avoid chronic homelessness, mainly by enlisting addicts to help each other.
“It’s holding each other accountable,” said client Lauren Radzimirski, a 28-year-old prescription-drug addict from Corbin. “This is life and death.”
The long-term, residential centers, modeled after The Healing Place in Louisville and Lexington’s Hope Centers, operate under the auspices of the Kentucky Housing Corp. Program director Michael Townsend said they don’t provide traditional treatment, such as group therapy run by substance abuse professionals, but instead offer a supportive recovery program.
They are in high demand and have months-long waiting lists. Townsend said they’ve been so successful that four more are planned.
Preliminary findings from a 2012 outcomes report sponsored by the housing corporation document the success. A random survey of 200 clients found that six months after completing their initial treatment of four to nine months, addicts were doing much better.
Eighty-five percent said they hadn’t used alcohol or drugs during the past month, and 75 percent said they had abstained for six months. Only 11 percent were back in the criminal justice system.
Kerri Richardson, spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said he and his wife strongly support Recovery Kentucky. He created the Recovery Kentucky Task Force in 2008 “to ensure the continued effectiveness and financial success of this initiative.” His wife is co-chair.
Radzimirski, a mother of two, said the Hope recovery center provides the support she needs to stay sober. She said when she arrived, she was suffering from the sweats and soreness from drug withdrawal. A peer mentor stayed by her side, giving her honey and a hot bath.
Since then, she said, her “sisters” have helped her understand her addiction. “They love you when you can’t love yourself,” she said. “They love you back to life.”
'A Model that Works'
The Recovery Kentucky program began in Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration as an effort by the Department for Local Government, the Department of Corrections and the housing corporation.
It’s considered a supportive housing initiative as well as a recovery program because a major goal is to reduce homelessness. State officials say more than half of Kentucky’s homeless population suffers from substance abuse.
The first two Recovery Kentucky centers opened in 2007 in Henderson and Morehead. Today there are five centers for men and five for women scattered around the state, plus the Louisville and Lexington centers on which they were based.
Officials hope two more will open in December 2013 in Hindman and Bowling Green, with another two to be added at undetermined locations in 2014 or 2015.
Clients without income may stay for free, although those earning a paycheck are charged 30 percent of it for housing.
Officials said this type of program has been named “A Model That Works” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Townsend said he believes “Kentucky is the only state doing this at this level.”
The program is funded by various sources. Funds for center construction came from programs administered by the Kentucky Housing Corp., and several projects also received contributions from local communities and governments, and from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati.
Operational funding includes about $4 million in federal money. And $3 million comes from the state Corrections Department, which leases 600 of Recovery Kentucky’s 1,000 beds for addicted inmates.
Townsend praised the Corrections Department for making substance abuse recovery a priority. But he acknowledged there are obstacles for non-incarcerated addicts — namely an average three-month wait for a bed, with clients needing to call every week to stay on the waiting list.
Waylon Tackett, a client at the Morehead Inspiration Center, a Recovery Kentucky center, said he waited 21/2 months for a bed there, and when it came open, his mother was battling cancer and he had to turn it down and wait three more months. “They tell you right off the bat it could be up to a year wait,” Tackett said.
People get chances
Addicts go through a program that includes peer support, classes in daily living, job responsibilities and 12-step recovery meetings.
One of the most powerful exercises is the so-called “community” gathering, in which addicts discuss their progress and problems and provide encouragement, support and advice to each other.
At Cumberland Hope Community one day, dozens of women gathered in a circle, focusing on Radzimirski’s recovery.
“This place has made me look at myself,” Radzimirski told her fellow clients. “You all hold me up when I can’t hold myself up. I’m grateful for everything.”
Radzimirski, from Corbin, said she only gets to see her two children twice a month. But she said the experience has given her a supportive community where she is learning to live without drugs.
Tackett, 31, a Marine veteran from Greenup County, said his experience at the Morehead center has made him believe that living sober is possible after years of abusing Percocet and OxyContin.
A longtime alcoholic, he said he became addicted to the pills after being prescribed Percocet when he was injured in Iraq.
The Morehead Inspiration Center, he said, “saved my life, to be quite honest.” He’s now a “peer mentor supervisor” in the program and is making plans to move soon.
Derek Thompson, a fellow Morehead client from McLean County, said he will always depend on the lessons he’s learned there.
“Now I know I have to do this the rest of my life to stay sober,” said Thompson, 33. “This is a blessing — I see it more and more each day. They give people chances.”