At recovery coach academy, grads go forth to offer assistance, hope in opioid crisis

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NORTH ADAMS — Yes, there is cause for hope.

That emotion helped guide 29 participants this week though what is believed to be the first recovery coach academy for the Northern Berkshires, a venture designed to bring new resources to counter the opioid epidemic.

The training of recovery coaches, sponsored by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, helps expand the toolkit for those trying to help people fight substance abuse. It comes on the heels of the recent opening of the Beacon Recovery Community Center.

"We want to promote the idea that long-term recovery can happen, it does happen, and we've got lots of living examples of it in our community," said Joe Buyse, who co-led the five-day program and directs the Living in Recovery Program in Pittsfield.

"We need to get that message out there: there's a lot of hope, and there's a lot of reasons to be hopeful," Buyse said Friday.

After completing the 30-hour academy led by certified instructors, participants bring new skills to the community, offering a nonclinical complement to services like detox.

Recovery coaches can help those new to recovery access transportation, and find housing and other forms of support that might otherwise be unavailable.

"Would it make sense to just cut that person loose and not have any maintenance, any support? The aftercare is what we're talking about," Buyse said, adding that recovery coaches seek to provide stability, lived experience and wisdom to clients.

Through the program, participants learn the science of recovery and the skills to support others in their recovery.

"They develop their own art of recovery," said Linda Sarage, who co-led the academy.

Since 2014, 24 deaths have been attributed to opioid overdoes in North Adams alone, according to the most recently available Department of Public Health data. During that same time, there have been four overdose deaths in Cheshire, 12 in Adams, three each in Williamstown and Lanesborough, and one each in Clarksburg and New Ashford.

Corinne Case, who participated in the training, talked about a "paradigm shift" in how addiction and recovery are approached —"from the real old notion of morality and shame-based addiction work."

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"Now, there's a respect for each individual and the amazing way that recovery happens when it's welcomed, not forced," Case said.

Lisa Talis, who works at the Living in Recovery Center and is in recovery herself, also participated in the training.

"[We learned] how we, as people who are in recovery ourselves or are recovery coaches, how we can help them achieve some of those small goals to reach the larger ones — sustainable recovery," Talis said.

The training was led by Buyse and Sarage, who served as director of the Recover Project in Greenfield for eight years and consulted with the coalition on the creation of the Beacon Recovery Community Center.

Among those who received additional training was Susan Cross, the coalition's prevention and recovery associate, who hopes to lead future recovery coach training programs. She heads the Beacon Recovery Community Center, which marked its opening two weeks ago.

"It is absolutely amazing to have had 29 participants when we were hopeful to have a dozen," Cross said. "So many of them will stay involved with the Beacon Recovery Community Center."

Wendy Penner, the coalition's director of prevention and wellness, said the group sponsored the training "as part of our work to support building the recovery community in our region and launching the Beacon Recovery Community Center."

People who trained included community members and staff of area care providers, Penner said.

Organizers of the training knew there would be demand for the program in the Northern Berkshires, but weren't certain how many people would be able to carve out a full week of their time.

"We know that there are people who want to step up and help. I think the commitment is what we wondered about. People are busy," said Amber Besaw, the coalition's executive director. "It didn't take long for people to say, 'I'm doing it.' "

The coalition hopes to offer the next step in training, Ethics for Recovery Coaches, in the future.

Funding for the training was provided in part by the Berkshire County Sheriff's Department and through a grant awarded by the Health Resources Service Administration to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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