Former Opioid Addicts Help Each Other In Massachusetts Program

Jan 9, 2017

Richard Jenkins, a member of Hope for Holyoke, shares his story about the peer-to-peer recovery center to an audience that included several Massachusetts state legislators.
Credit WAMC

   As Massachusetts combats the opioid addiction crisis, peer-to-peer recovery programs are growing and seeking state funding.

   Richard Jenkins, 50, said he struggled for years with addictions to crack cocaine and later heroin. He stole money from his children to feed his habit.  Then one day about a year ago, he went downtown to pay a bill at the Holyoke Gas and Electric Co. office and by chance found the help he needed right across the street at Hope for Holyoke.

   " Before you know it, I started chairing meetings and being a speaker for the center," explained Jenkins.  " My recovery started to blossom."

   Located in a storefront on Suffolk Street in downtown Holyoke, Hope for Holyoke is the only peer-based recovery program of its kind in Hampden County.

   Since the recovery center opened two years ago, about 350 people have come through the door for help.  Some are referred to the center after they’ve been through a detoxification program, or have been treated in a hospital emergency room.  Others, like Jenkins, find the center by chance.

   " And the center needs to stay open because there is not a program like it," said Jenkins.

   Debbie Flynn-Gonzalez, Hope for Holyoke Program Director, said the services are broad and include recovery coaches, support groups, recreational and social activities.

" It works beautifully," she said. " The real difference with this program is its peers doing the work. They've been there. They've walked in their shoes, and those people are helping the new ones that come through the door.

  There is no cost to participate in the center’s programs and no insurance is required.  The center received $350,000 last year from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

  The Holyoke program is operated by the West Springfield-based Gandara Center. Executive Director Henry East-Trou said he is hopeful the state will continue to fund it as part of a continuum of care in the opioid addiction crisis.

  " There is a lot of money being spent on ( the opioid crisis), but it is not a one day process. There is more that needs to be done," said East-Trou

   Staff and participants at Hope for Holyoke, Monday, shared stories of success – and some failures – with several members of the western Massachusetts state legislative delegation.  State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke said the program has a “big impact for small dollars.”

   The first peer-to-peer recovery center of its kind in Hampshire County was scheduled to open Monday at Edwards Church in Northampton.

  The Northampton Recovery Center is a collaboration of the City of Northampton, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office and members of the recovery community in Hampshire County.