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With Aurora Village, a new resource for women confronting addiction

Melissa Wegst sees a silver lining in this year’s statistics for addiction treatment services at Horizon Health Services.

“In our data over the past year, our population in our co-ed residential facilities was split almost 50/50 among men and women," said Wegst,  program director of Aurora Village, a new 25-bed residential treatment facility on the Horizon Village campus in Niagara County.

“For so long, women didn’t seek treatment because of demands at home or the shame of going into treatment,” she said. “What’s encouraging is that people are reaching out for help. We just need to have services that provide for them.”

Aurora Village last month joined other residential treatment facilities at the Horizon Village residential treatment site in Sanborn.

The modern architecture, along with a wellness center complete with fitness and nutrition classes, exercise equipment and a basketball court, give the out-of-the-way locale a college campus feel.

Many who temporarily live on the campus began addictions recovery in a traditional 28-day inpatient rehabilitation or stabilization setting. Campus residential pods that provide for the next step in the process include the original 50-bed Horizon Village, once co-ed but now for adult men; Freedom Village, a 25-bed facility primarily for male veterans and first-responders; and 25-bed Delta Village, next door to Aurora Village and mostly for adults age 27 and younger.

Residents come from all backgrounds, races, creeds and economic status. Drug addictions don’t discriminate. Opiates have been the primary drug of choice this year for nearly 60 percent of those who lived on campus for three to four months, followed by alcohol, cocaine is about 12 percent, then stimulants, hallucinogens, sedatives and marijuana.

Many residents have struggled with more than one addiction. About half also have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or another mental illness. Roughly half are ordered to campus by a judge or other legal authority, however self and family referrals to treatment are still the primary source of referrals into Horizon Village treatment programs.

“We have six women in Aurora Village that we consider young adults, 27 or under,” Wegst said. “The rest, 19 patients, are age 27 into their late 40s. We already have a waiting list of about 20 women.”

New drug addiction recovery center spurs hope, reunites families

Wegst, a Lancaster native, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice from Canisius College and master’s degrees in both psychology and mental health counseling from Medaille College. She worked four years as an outpatient counselor at the Horizons Hertel-Elmwood counseling center, then 4½ years in the Terrace House detox/stabilization unit in Buffalo before taking the reins at Aurora Village.

Her new work digs include 14 double rooms along with three “group rooms” for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other supportive gatherings, a cafeteria and counseling offices, all of which circle a comfy lounge.

Aurora Village residents will spend three to four months there, attending at least four or five clinical groups per day as well as peer-led, self-run groups. They will do chores and have other responsibilities. They will be able to welcome family members who want to learn more about support and recovery. They also will be able to leave the facility for extended periods of time once their recovery begins to take stronger hold to work on practicing learned skills outside a controlled environment.

Seventy-six percent of those who came to the campus this year for residential treatment completed it, Wegst said.

Q: What is the main challenge of drug treatment?

Drugs have provided some kind of coping skill, or outlet, for people. Even if they can rationally say that their life has been destroyed by drug use, it’s also been a means to get through things. The challenge is redoing your thought process. Instead of saying, “I feel anxious today, so I’m used to grabbing a pill to make me feel better,” it’s sitting through that discomfort, which is not easy for most of our patients. Think about over-the-counter medications. You have a cough, you reach for a medication to feel better. It’s the same thing they do, just in a different [more destructive] way.

Q: What are the most important skills counselors and others look to develop for those in programs?

Coping skills. Assertiveness, being able to speak for yourself and identify how you’re feeling. Being able to verbalize your needs, ask for help. All those things are really, really important principles that people need to be successful in their recovery.

Q: How many people are dealing with issues from their upbringing?

I would think at least 70 percent of our patients have experienced some sort of trauma or difficult scenario that they’ve gone through – whether they’ve used drugs to cope or just had a childhood where maybe they didn’t learn the skills to grow up to not live a life like this.

Q: Where do those served tend to go after their residential treatment ends?

Maybe a halfway house ... someplace that’s a sober living environment where you still have to follow the rules of the house, maintain the house, but don’t have groups on-site. You have to leave the residence for outpatient programs.

Q: What do you encourage residents to make priorities when they leave residential treatment?

Self-help is huge. They have to have some kind of sober support network. We really encourage NA and AA, but they can find it in church or spiritual activities. If they have supports through family, that’s great but it’s also nice for them to have connections with other people with shared experiences, where they get each other.

Q: What do you encourage them to avoid?

Their old surroundings, whether that’s people they used to use with, places they used to go that would trigger them to want to use. If they can avoid certain scenarios that have been triggers to them, that’s really encouraged.

Q: How often do you hear that someone who has been in treatment has died from an overdose?

Way too often ... It’s always a reaction of sadness. There’s that sense of feeling defeated but there’s always hope. We still have people here that we need to help, and we focus our energy on them.

Q: Any success stories?

I had one patient I worked with at our Hertel location who was doing really well. She came there from Horizon Village. She’s celebrating five years sober, just had a baby and is engaged to get married. She went back to school for nursing. She was really excited to learn that Aurora was opening and said that if she has time she’d love to come out and talk to the women and provide some hope.

To learn more about Horizon Health Services, visit horizon-health.org or call 831-1800.

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