January 18

Local addiction recovery program gets new home in Augusta

Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery coordinator Darren Ripley said the new location will allow the program to have a greater reach into the community.

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — In the battle against addiction, a call from a friend can make all the difference. Getting a system in place to allow people to make those calls has become Darren Ripley’s preoccupation.

click image to enlarge

Room for improvement: Darren Ripley talks about the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery’s new offices on Wednesday during an interview in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Darren Ripley talks about the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery’s new offices on Wednesday during an interview in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Ripley, coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, is searching every nook and cranny for funding that will allow him to open a telephone recovery support program in MAAR’s new home in the Olde Federal Building on Water Street in Augusta. Ripley sees the unlimited potential of the new space, opportunities for more groups, job assistance and even acupuncture therapy. The telephone recovery support program is the crown jewel of that vision.

“I try not to let it get me down that I don’t have it up and running,” Ripley said.

The alliance specializes in supporting programs on the front lines of recovery by providing organization, training and advocacy for those recovering from alcohol and drug addictions.

“We support all pathways to recovery,” said Ripley, adding that he has been in recovery for 21 years.

Ripley, who took over as the alliance’s coordinator in 2012, recently oversaw a move from the second floor of the Olde Federal Building to the main floor. The new space, unlike the old, offers private rooms and communications infrastructure to expand programs. The alliance moved in October.

“We have the ability to provide more services for those in recovery,” Ripley said.

Offering those services has become increasingly important in light of overdose statistics released by the state’s attorney general last week. There were 163 drug-related deaths in 2012, 101 of which were related to pharmaceutical opioids such as oxycodone and methadone. There were 829 drug-related deaths from 2008 to 2012, an average of more than 165 people per year. The number of heroin-related deaths quadrupled from seven in 2011 to 28 in 2012, according to the report.

The new location has space for group meetings. That room will be named in honor Jordan Ellis, a 19-year-old Augusta man who died of an overdose in May 2012. Ripley has remained in contact with Ellis’ family members, who approve of naming the group room for him.

“His family has been very supportive,” Ripley said.

Among the programs are recovery meetings, peer support meetings for parents and families, and a recovery coach program. Ripley said he eventually would like to offer acupuncture therapy, which he said is particularly effective for those battling marijuana addictions. The alliance provides training for its programs, which are all staffed by volunteers. Ripley said he has a host of volunteers ready to sign up for training to work the telephone recovery support program.

“If someone had called me when I first started out in recovery, that would have been great,” Ripley said.

Those who sign up for the program will receive a weekly call from a volunteer. The caller will check on the participant’s progress in recovery and listen and offer support when the person is facing life challenges. Most people sign up for the calls for a few months, but the process can continue for as long as the person in recovery wishes, Ripley said. The Portland Recovery Community Center, which, like the alliance, is run under the umbrella of the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, currently offers the only telephone recovery support program in the state. Information on the recovery center’s website claims the program is particularly effective for those who relapse. According to one study in Connecticut, more than 10 percent who received calls for 12 weeks self-reported a relapse, and of those 72 percent claimed to have gone back into recovery. Many of those who returned credited the weekly call.

Ripley said the program helps track clients’ progress because the software not only provides a daily schedule of people to call, but it allows the volunteers to keep notes of those conversations so they can follow up on specific discussions or concerns.

“Statistics show that it’s so beneficial,” he said.

Ripley thinks the Augusta program could be particularly effective because, like the Portland program, it will use volunteers. Those receiving the calls will know they are talking to a volunteer who is choosing to reach out to them rather than a paid staff member.

“I have volunteers waiting in the wings,” Ripley said.

They, like Ripley, are waiting for funding to establish the program. Ripley said he needs about $3,000 to buy the software and receive the training.

“I’m trying to go through as many grants as I can to get that $3,000,” Ripley said.

The process has consumed much of his time, but he thinks it will all be worth it.

“We can hopefully stop that revolving door,” Ripley said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642ccrosby@centralmaine.com
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