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By Rose Hoban

More than 4,000 people who are working to recovery from substance abuse disorders will have some extra help, thanks to a $7.8 million federal grant that’s coming to North Carolina.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced late Monday that the grant, from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will be targeted at helping people get sober and back on their feet.

According to a press release from DHHS, the grant will focus on homeless people, people getting out of jail or prison for drug-related convictions and pregnant and parenting women, among others.

[pullquote_right] Did you know NC Health News is a non-profit? Last year, a third of our funding came from readers. Please consider a donation today! [/pullquote_right]“There are some dollars for things like medical, dental, vision,” said Terri Conyers, a service director at Recovery Communities of North Carolina, the agency that will be managing the three-year grant.

“Imagine you haven’t been to a dentist in five years, but you can get cleaning, X-rays, exams,” she said. “That’s huge for someone. It gives people some hope.”

The grant will go to support recovery services, a different approach to providing substance abuse services than in the past. As Conyers explained it, recovery services take into account the fact that there’s no one way to get one’s life together after using substances for years.

“Every journey doesn’t have to look like my journey,” said Conyers, who talked about being drug and alcohol free since 2007.

Courtney Cantrell, director of the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.
Photo courtesy NC DHHS.

“In the past, there were a only a couple of approved ways to get sober, and unless you took one of those routes you weren’t [considered] successful. But there’s a growing recognition that there are multiple ways to recovery,” she said.

And that’s the point of the funding, said Courtney Cantrell, who leads the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.

“This grant provides us with a great opportunity to extend the state’s services and enable people with substance use disorders to independently choose the services that will best support their recovery,” said Cantrell in a press release from DHHS.

No longer anonymous

in the past, one of the main pathways to sobriety was through mutual aid networks such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, but Conyers said a big shortcoming is that people involved in those movements remained anonymous. As a result, addicts and alcoholics didn’t talk publicly about their struggles or their successes, and the stigma against people with substance abuse problems never really abated.

“You see that guy at the corner with a sign, and you think, ‘He’s a bum, a drunk,’” Conyers said. “But a lot of those people recover. And then they fall off the radar once they get better. What happens when that individual gets sober? They become productive members of society.”

Recently, there’s been a movement to get more people to talk publicly about how they recovered from substance abuse and to encourage others to get their lives back together.

Conyers described how people who are starting to get drug free often just need a little help getting started. The SAMHSA grant money might go to paying someone’s first month’s rent before they get a paycheck, for instance.

“Say you’re a month behind in rent and you’re stressed out. It’s overwhelming,” she said. “So they would come into our office or the office of one of our partners [and] get an assessment.

“At that point, we sit down and make a plan for their recovery, what are thee goals you’d like to attain, what are your largest barriers at this moment,” then issue a rent voucher to help tide the person over. Conyers said her organization would then follow the person’s progress, providing encouragement, assistance and guidance.

“There’s some money for education, money for child-development classes, some parenting classes for when they’re getting sober and there’s children in their lives,” she said.

Recovery Networks of North Carolina is a relatively new organization, with offices in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Robeson counties, with other offices planned for Western North Carolina in the coming year. Conyers also said that with the grant money, the organization plans opening several “recovery community centers” in four locations around the state.

“You get sober and then you’re like, ‘What do I do with this time?’” she said. “These recovery centers will allow people to have sober life experiences and have fun with people who understand and are like-minded and share their experiences.”

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