December 17, 2018
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‘Stigma for me was huge’: Maine community works to put an end to addiction shaming

Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly
Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly
Jeana Coggins, left, and Jesse Harvey, members of the Portland chapter of Young People in Recovery, shared their stories of addiction and recovery during a forum this week hosted by York Hospital.

Jeana Coggins tells of a past life of jail cells and addiction, homelessness and friendlessness. She beat herself up for losing custody of her child and then heard people reinforcing that.

”‘I was a druggie.’ ‘How could I do this to my child?’”

Coggins told the story of her addiction and recovery at a forum last Wednesday night as York works to become a “recovery ready community.” The forum, which drew from the recovery, treatment and law enforcement field, was sponsored by York Hospital and the Choose to be Healthy Coalition.

Coggins today has her daughter back, is working toward her college degree, has her own apartment, and is a member of the Portland chapter of Young People in Recovery.

“I’m an adult. I show up,” she said.

But six years ago, she was in the grips of addiction.

“I’d get arrested, get out on bail and sure enough go back in jail,” she recalled. “Stigma for me was huge. I beat myself up with all these things I heard other people say. I used to blame and shame myself. My parents said, ‘We’re done. We can’t help you.’”

Court-ordered appointments with a drug and alcohol began to turn things for her. Her counselor told her that she had children taken from her too. “She said if you just do the right things, you can get your daughter back. She gave me hope.”

Coggins’ story is instructive, said Alison Jones Webb, a consultant working with York Hospital, and underscores the underlying need for family and community engagement during all stages of recovery — whether it’s from alcohol, opioids or other drugs.

“We tend to exclude them, those people who are different,” she said. “One of the reasons people don’t seek treatment is because they’re ashamed. They’re ashamed to talk to their families, to their doctors, and then they just go farther and farther down the path.”

Sally Manninen of the Choose to be Healthy Coalition, which works to prevent addictions before they start, said “what we need to do is change our language to become compassionate around this topic.”

One significant step in that process will soon begin at York Hospital. By April, the hospital’s Cottage Program, which has long provided addiction counseling, is changing its name to the York Hospital Recovery Center. The center will offer medication-assisted treatment of opioid addictions by providing access to buprenorphine, which stops withdrawal and reduces craving. Outpatient services will continue past the 24-week program if continued use of buprenorphine is needed.

Dr. Jill George, a family practitioner who led the effort to create the Recovery Center, told the group that doctors who are willing to receive a federal waiver to prescribe buprenorphine will become a critical part of the center’s success. As of Jan. 5, 10 providers have the proper certification from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, she said, including two obstetricians who will provide care to pregnant women.

“We’re really excited to provide this service,” she said.

Looking forward, Webb said there are a lot of things that people can do to reduce stigmas and welcome people in recovery into their community. Talk to them. Work to overcome public stigma and social attitudes. Be aware of the language you use. Meet people where they are.

“Welcome people in recovery back. Give them support. If you are an employer you have an important role to hire people in recovery. Housing is really, really critical.” she said. “Don’t get scared. Ask how you can support them.”

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