Athens Organizers Come Together For Women’s Recovery

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The road to recovery for women of Athens began with a single step Friday at the Athens Public Library.

A full conference room of educators, counselors, probation officers and administrators brought their ideas together in the search for a solution to the lack of options in Athens for women recovering from alcohol and substance addiction.

Members of the Substance Abusing Mentally Ill (SAMI) court, a part of the Athens County Municipal Court; Integrated Services Behavioral Health; the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Program’s Family Navigator group and the Rural Women’s Recovery Program (RWRP) were all present, along with religious groups and other interest groups.

Many among the group said underlying issues beyond a lack of funding existed in the fight for female recovery housing. Resources are finite, and personal issues other than addiction are a big part of women’s lives.

“One-fourth to one-third of all women we serve are in substandard or unsuitable housing…and need full treatment,” said Stacy Lee, of the OU Community Health Family Navigator program.

That unsuitable housing can include housing with other addicts, temporary housing with family members or a life with people who aren’t supportive of the woman’s attempts for recovery.

The navigator program works with women of poverty and those with high-risk pregnancies. They see women with a number with addiction disorders, along with children with developmental disabilities.

What the area needs, the group at the forum said, is more facilities that help women who may not need intense clinical care, but still need a place to focus on their recovery.

“We would like to have women in a central location where services can come to them,” said Sue Meeks, manager of the Family Navigator program. “Transportation is a big issues and we have women scattered over multiple counties.”

Treatment would include medication-assisted treatments, or MAT, like suboxone treatments and even more specialized care for pregnant women.

“Pregnant women might be waiting four to six weeks to get into medication-assisted treatment,” Lee said. “While they wait…they are at risk of harming two rather than one.”

The Rural Women’s Recovery Program is the only exclusively female treatment center in the area,  and is considered a treatment facility because of its “intense” clinical and medical care, said Ellen Martin, Chief Operations Officer for Health Recovery Services, which oversees the RWRP.

RWRP is at the top level of a scale Ohio Recovery Housing uses to categorize the level of care being given at recovery houses and treatment centers.

Level One is typically a rented house or apartment that is “democratically-run,” according to Ron Luce, president of Ohio Recovery Housing and director of the John Clem House, a sober living community for males in Athens. This type of program includes a group of roommates who take responsibility for their own sobriety. Level Two is a more supervised program, like the Clem House, where programs and an encouragement to gain employment are used to “develop some sense of responsibility,” Luce said.

Level Three and Four facilities, like RWRP, have 24-hour supervision, structured schedules and classes to help with life skills and addiction services.

“This is the highest level of clinical and medical care, for women who haven’t had success at lower levels of care,” Martin said.

Despite underlying issues, the group still identified funding as one of the biggest obstacles in starting recovery facilities in the Athens area.

“Funding for recovery housing is pretty scarce,” said Luce. “Ohio is way out in the lead because the state government has supported recovery housing, to a very limited degree, but far more than any other state.”

Martin said treatment would need to be subsidized because of the level of poverty the program deals with.

“The women are coming out of residential treatment and they don’t have the means to even pay a stipend for services,” Martin said.

But the nearly two-hour discussion didn’t only center on needs. Assets that are already present in the region were also offered, such as faith-based and science-based groups that meet at churches and other locations around the area. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous also have networks to help those that need it.

Possibilities in housing are being presented as well, with additions to current sober housing models at Integrated Services and Athens landlords offering up properties for programs. Timothy House, a residential facility through Good Works, Inc., works to house individuals who have come clean and wish to remain so, said Andrea Horsch, of Good Works.

“We are not an entry point for the person who is actively using, but we’re a good middle point,” Horsch said.

The passion is there, the group agreed, and interest in recovery services has become a state issue, but sometimes passion does not intertwine with state politics.

“When you do this stuff, you live in the world of politics, and what exists today may not exist tomorrow,” Luce said.