For Ariel Britt, a program manager at The Phoenix Center, 2239 Champa St. in Five Points., a support network helped keep her on the road to recovery. Britt has been sober for nearly seven years. The nonprofit Phoenix Center, where she works, is a fitness center for people in recovery.
Britt works with youth prevention, hoping to get kids and young adults struggling with addiction on the path to recovery before they hit rock bottom. She moved to Denver from Georgia a year ago to help start the program at The Phoenix.
“Oftentimes, people don’t even get sober until they’re in their early 30s,” Britt said. “With the opioid epidemic and things of that nature there’s been a call to get sober a lot sooner. So you don’t have to wait until you lose everything, until your life’s a debacle.”
The Phoenix offers free fitness programming for people with 48 hours of sobriety. The gym started in Boulder before moving its headquarters to Five Points. It now has two locations in Colorado and has expanded nationally. The business also partners with other gyms to offer Phoenix programming.
As a mentor to youth looking at recovery in Denver, Britt said she works hard to be open with them. As an adult in recovery herself, she still has mentors helping her along the way.
“When I look back at my journey and my recovery,” she said, “it’d be interesting to have met someone in recovery who was open about their recovery before I realized that I had a problem.”
In the lower levels of the downtown branch of the Denver Public Library, Rob Valuck, director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, holds up a small device with a spray nozzle, similar to nasal decongestants. The device contains naloxone, an antidote to opioids, which can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose.
The device is easy to use and can help to save someone’s life, Valuck said.
After his speech, he pulled out a dummy of the device, asking Mayor Michael B. Hancock to demonstrate how to administer it.
The demonstration was part of a larger event, International Overdose Awareness Day, on Aug. 30. Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths across the nation in 2016. In 2017, 201 people died of a drug overdose in Denver. Of those deaths, 70 percent of them involved three or more substances, Valuck said in his speech that day.
The event was a start of a larger push for the Opioid Response Strategic Action Plan released by the city of Denver at the end of July. Before releasing the plan, Hancock mentioned the opioid crisis in his State of the City speech, saying overdoes deaths had increased by 15 percent increase since last year.
During his speech, Valuck said that part of the reason overdose numbers have been rising is because a large number or people started using about 10 to 12 years ago. From first exposure, it takes that amount of time for people to build an addiction and habit to a substance before overdosing. It also means the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses are going to keep going up for the next few years.
“It probably will not peak until its in the range of 100,000 to 150,00 Americans a year dying from opioid overdoses,” he said. “Those trains have left the station and we cannot get them back.”
Getting people into treatment is the best hope, he said.
The city’s five-year action plan will focus on preventing substance (mis)use, improving treatment access and retention, as well as reducing harm. The city is defining (mis)use as using drugs for reasons other than their intended purpose, as well as general substance use.
For people already using drugs in the city, there can be barriers to treatment such as costs and stigma around asking for help.
Katelyn Cole, project coordinator of the PHASE program with the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), said some of those stigmas prevent people from getting the help they need. She said it’s important to recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. Many people who relapse forget that and close themselves off. But that is often the last thing they need, Cole said.
The MHCD has facilities througout Denver and offers services for all aspects of mental health, including recovery. PHASE specifically works with people on probation or parole in creating a safe space for people to engage in recovery for both mental health issues and addiction.
Part of Cole’s job as the project coordinator is to create a support network for people on their journey of recovery. Treatment and recovery can be a long process, Cole said. Many people go through relapses. Since Cole works with mental health as well as patients struggling with addiction, a large part of her job is counseling and directing people toward other resources to help them on their path to recovery.
But one of the most important resources a person in recovery can have is a support network, she said.
“I can’t stress that enough,” she said. “It’s not easy going through that alone.”
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