Briana Petersdorf and others who have helped organize Western New York Recovery Day over time are trying a different strategy for this year’s event.
It will be partially indoors.
“Last year and in year’s past, we’ve had it outside at a park,” Petersdorf said. “We’ve had torrential downpours.”
Recovery Day 2016 will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Main-Transit Fire Department Pavilion, 6777 Main St., Amherst. For more info, visit cazenoviarecovery.org/RecoveryDay2016.
“Anybody and everybody who’s had their life affected by addiction can attend. We’ll have a catered lunch and there will be face-painting and other things for kids. There will be treatment providers and peers available to talk,” said Petersdorf, program director at Unity House, a 24-bed residence for homeless men who look to free themselves from the disease of addiction.
Petersdorf, 31, a married mother of two who lives in Orchard Park, has worked for eight years at Cazenovia Recovery Systems, one of several agencies that will be on hand. She will lead Narcan trainings throughout the free event and give nasal kits to help those in the midst of an opioid overdose.
Recovery Day comes during an opioid epidemic that has gripped much of the nation, including Erie County, where 230 overdose deaths have been reported so far this year.
Q. Why did you go into addictions recovery work?
A friend recommended me to the field and I just fell in love with it as I went. It opened up a whole new world I wasn’t familiar with at the time. I didn’t know anybody who had gone through addiction. Now, I have really close friends who have struggled with it and had to go into treatment. It’s not unusual these days.
Q. Can you talk about the history of Unity House?
The building has been providing treatment for more than 10 years. Prior to last summer, it was called Visions Place and it was providing substance abuse and mental health treatment to people with severe and persistent mental illness. They also had to be homeless to be part of that program. Then we lost some funding and that program closed, so we chose to open it under Unity House, where it’s serving homeless male individuals with a substance abuse diagnosis. Some also have mild mental health issues.
Q. Do mental illness and addiction often go hand-in-hand?
All the time. It’s so common. It’s almost like they’re intermingling. You can’t treat one without treating the other.
Q. What are the most rewarding parts of this line of work?
Seeing the success stories. Seeing people come back and say that Cazenovia has changed their life. Even the little things, not so much as long-term recovery but people being able to engage in self-help.
Q. What are the most demanding parts?
Not being able to meet everybody’s needs or watching people fail over and over and over again. Sometimes people just aren’t at the place where they want, or are able, to get help.
Q. How does someone get to that place where they’re willing, ready? Is it obvious to counselors?
It’s not, and the change isn’t always overnight. Sometimes, recovery starts with just one thing: “I don’t want to get clean but I really want to go to school.” Let’s start with that. What is it going to take to get back to school? Then, sometimes, change happens and sobriety comes along the way.
Q. What three things do you wish the public better understood about addiction and those in its grip?
That people who are in programs aren’t trying to live off the system. That’s not what they intended. They’re trying to better their lives and be successful and be functioning members of society. Addiction hits everybody. It’s not just people in the city. It’s not just middle-aged or older people. It’s hitting people who are 19, 20 years old who came from the suburbs. It’s hitting people who have affluent backgrounds. Often, people think, “Once an addict, always an addict.” People do recover. People do get better.
Q. How has addiction changed in Western New York since you started in the field?
There’s definitely a younger crowd and there’s now a heroin, opioid epidemic. When I started, you saw more crack cocaine and alcohol. You still see that but heroin has become the most prevalent thing you see. I think it’s the accessibility of it. Kids start with pills and don’t think it’s going to turn into anything because it’s a prescribed medication. They’re taking it from a friend or family member, then it becomes hard to access pills that much. Then it gets expensive and they move to something cheaper to keep the addiction going. It’s a pattern. I wouldn’t say that every case is the same but I would say that you see a lot who started with drinking in high school and taking some pills, and then it escalated.
Q. What would you say to an addict out there who’s really struggling, as well as their loved ones?
There is hope. There’s people out there to connect with. There’s peer support. There’s treatment programs. There are different medications that can help. You’re not alone. It’s so dangerous to continue it now, especially with all the overdoses. There is somebody that can help you, someone who’s walked a similar path who can guide you through it. Loved ones can always call us and we can guide them through the process. You can’t refer somebody who doesn’t want to be referred but any family members looking for an outlet or help or an application to get them in, they can call us.
Q. What can loved ones do to be prepared in these situations?
They can go to the Narcan trainings, Al-Anon support groups, call treatment programs and get applications. They can network to find out where beds are available.
Q. Are there a few steps in your experience that can help break the cycle of addiction?
Not necessarily that they have to take but I do see a lot of success in people who are using the addiction medications, Vivitrol – naltrexone is the pill version of that – and Suboxone. Methodone, as well. People who get on those medication tend to manage cravings better. Being in a structured program, having counseling, doing groups. It’s definitely having structure, having a schedule, having a purpose-driven life.
Q. A lot of folks after they get clean want to help others?
Absolutely. It’s kind of like a giveback. It’s how the recovery world works: “I’ve been supported by others to get better and now I need to reciprocate.”
Q. You’ll be teaching Narcan training during Recovery Day. What will that be like?
I’ll be sitting at a table with the Narcan kits and as people come up I’ll give them demonstrations of how to use it and I’ll give them a little handout of when to use it. Sometimes, people aren’t sure. They’ll get a kit and also get a script. If they use the kit, they can go to their pharmacy and get another one. It’s very simple to use. They keep it that way so people can use it in a panicked state.
There’s two different kinds: an injectible and a nasal kit. If somebody’s unconscious, you would put together the kit – the nasal kit you just need to put two pieces together. Then you hold it up to the nose, put it in and squirt, then call 911. And if you don’t get a response within a minute, you would squirt another vial into their nose. The Narcan kits are free.
Q. How often might someone need to come back into treatment?
Some people get it right on the first try. Some people need come to our door four or five times. We don’t turn you away. If you want the help, come back. You never want to feel like you’ve left a stone unturned with anybody. You want to make sure when they’re completing the program and 110 percent has been given to them and that they’re really ready to be out there. If not, their life is on the line.
It’s really tough to watch the people who don’t want the help or get here and refuse the help and decide to leave the program. You want to beg them to stay but you can’t if they’re not ready.
Sometimes the success isn’t staying clean for 25 years. Sometimes the success is, “You got a year clean this time. That was amazing. You haven’t had a year clean in 13 years. Let’s work with that success and try for five years clean.” It’s trying to meet people as part of an ongoing process.
Q. Are there enough resources in the region to address addiction? If not, what more would help?
I definitely don’t think there’s enough. We get a lot of out-of-county referrals. I think Western New York is realizing how much is needed and a lot is coming our way. Most of our programs are full most of the time.
Q. If someone reading this wants help, whether it be someone struggling with an addiction or a loved one, where can they get support?
They can call any of our programs. For any intake or application information, call 852-4331. The Erie County Opioid Epidemic Task Force started a new number. It’s 831-7007. They can help you find treatment resources.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon