SpiritLife Inc.’s proposed treatment center is only one of several efforts that have sprung up locally in response to the area’s substance abuse problems.
For instance, Green Township’s Dixonville Wesleyan Church and Indiana Borough’s Grace United Methodist Church are working cooperatively to establish a chapter of a Christian-oriented support group.
Called Celebrate Recovery, the support group employs a 12-step approach similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. But one principal difference is that unlike AA, which recognizes a nonspecific higher power, Celebrate Recovery recognizes a specific higher power, Jesus Christ.
Additionally, the group’s focus is broader than AA and Narcotics Anonymous, open to anyone with “hurts, habits and hang-ups.” Those include predilections to food, gambling and pornography.
Celebrate Recovery is a nationwide program, and locally there is a chapter that meets at Homer City United Methodist Church.
News of that chapter’s formation helped plant the seeds of the idea in Jackie Greene, Dixonville Wesleyan’s outreach pastor.
Greene said she and the church’s God Answers Prayer ministry had been praying for help in identifying an unmet need they could fill in the community.
Those prayers were answered, she said, in that she found her thoughts returning often to Celebrate Recovery.
“God kept putting it on my mind and kept bringing it back to me,” she said.
Starting some type of support group also had been on the radar at Grace United, and when it learned what Dixonville Wesleyan was planning, it volunteered to join the effort. It also offered its church as a meeting place.
The Rev. David Henderson said that hosting the chapter is an opportunity to minister to those suffering from addiction and to provide healing and wholeness in the midst of brokenness.
The chapter isn’t yet up and running, but it plans to begin meeting in September.
In Blairsville, two mothers and a police officer have formed a support and advocacy group meant for anyone battling an addiction, both addicts and families alike. Named the Blairsville Support Group Against Drugs, it meets on the second Sunday of each month at the Blairsville Borough building.
This month’s meeting has been moved to the Blairsville fire hall, where the president of Sage’s Army, a nonprofit advocacy group, is to speak.
One of the organizers is Blairsville resident Karen McMillan, who lost her son, Corey, more than a year ago to a heroin overdose.
She and a friend, who has a son battling a heroin addiction, started the group not only to offer support, but to call attention to the problem.
To make the point that substance abuse is a larger problem than some care to admit, McMillan offers up her home street as an example.
There are eight homes along it, and of those, six, she said, have been touched in some way by drug use.
“That’s just one block in one small town in one small county in this state,” she said. “That’s huge. This isn’t a small problem.”
Given the prevalence of substance abuse, the problem should be priority in every town. Yet it isn’t, she said.
“People are too afraid to talk about it.”
McMillan and her friend said they found that there is not much in the way of local support for family members. And recalling their own experiences, they wanted to make sure there is a place for people to turn.
“We do not want to see other people experience the heartache we have on two completely different levels in our families,” she said.
Aside from providing support and awareness, the group has another goal: to push back against the stigma associated with substance abuse, especially as it relates to heroin.
Blairsville police Officer Jill Gaston, who also is one of the group’s organizers, said she knows from experience that many people assume heroin users are bad people who come from bad families and deserve whatever fate befalls them.
However, those assumptions are not reflective of reality, she said, pointing out that heroin addiction cuts across all lines.
“Heroin is not prejudiced in any way. It doesn’t care what class you come from or what color you are,” she said.
McMillan’s friend said that stigma is unfairly applied not only to addicts, but to their families.
“It’s like you took the needle yourself and told your son, ‘OK, you’re going to be a heroin addict today. Let me help you.’ It’s terrible.”
She said she’s noticed that since word of her son’s troubles spread, some avoid her.
“(People) see you coming down the aisle, and they turn around and pretend they’re looking at something else because they don’t know what to say to you. They don’t want to have to address it.
“They act like you are the plague, like I’m spreading cancer and they’re going to catch it if they walk within a foot of me.”
In Indiana, another set of mothers whose children are battling heroin addictions have established a local Nar-Anon meeting.
Nar-Anon is a national support group for people suffering as a result of someone else’s addiction. It’s modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and it practices its own 12-step program designed to help friends and families of addicts engage in their own recovery.
The first of its 12 steps states, “We admitted we were powerless over the addict — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The local group calls itself Gardeners for Change, and it meets Wednesdays at The Open Door offices in The Atrium along Philadelphia Street,
It was started by two local mothers who were seeking support. Not finding any, they each decided to set up a meeting, not knowing that other was doing likewise.
They found out when one called the other to ask if she’d be interested in participating.
One of the mothers said May has been a stressful month — “All the kids relapsed,” she said.
Her own son’s relapse came on Mother’s Day. He had shown up for a surprise visit.
Without the support of one another, the month would have been all the more difficult to get through, she said.
“You never know when they’re going to relapse, and when they do, we know that we have each other to turn to,” she said. “And even more so than that, we know what to do,” she said.
And also, she said, what not to do, which primarily is to refrain from falling apart.
“We have to go on with our lives,” she said.