2017-12-07 / News

Vote may mean more will get recovery help

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The Milestone Recovery campus in Old Orchard Beach has 15 beds for individuals who have completed an intensive treatment program but are not quite ready to move out. Those who live in the transitional housing are required to maintain part-time jobs but do not have to attend as many group sessions. Jayme Villanueva, operations manager in Old Orchard Beach, said the facility’s motto is “the opposite of addiction is connection.” (Grant McPherson photo) The Milestone Recovery campus in Old Orchard Beach has 15 beds for individuals who have completed an intensive treatment program but are not quite ready to move out. Those who live in the transitional housing are required to maintain part-time jobs but do not have to attend as many group sessions. Jayme Villanueva, operations manager in Old Orchard Beach, said the facility’s motto is “the opposite of addiction is connection.” (Grant McPherson photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – An area recovery treatment center has struggled to accept patients but that could change thanks to a referendum passed by Maine voters this year.

Question 2, a state-wide initiative to offer MaineCare to people younger than 65 with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, was approved this November by almost 60 percent of voters. Healthcare.gov lists the 2017 federal poverty level at $12,060 per year for an individual and $24,600 for a family of four. According to the Maine Office of Fiscal Program and Review, the state could need $54.5 million per year to cover the cost of the expansion. The Legislature still has to submit a plan to the federal government on where funding will come from.


Residents at Milestone Recovery in Old Orchard Beach are encouraged to share meals and interact with each other, to prevent individuals from isolating themselves. TV is not allowed during the week and residents are expected not to return to their rooms until 8 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held Tuesday nights on the Portland Avenue campus and on the beach during summer. (Grant McPherson photo) Residents at Milestone Recovery in Old Orchard Beach are encouraged to share meals and interact with each other, to prevent individuals from isolating themselves. TV is not allowed during the week and residents are expected not to return to their rooms until 8 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held Tuesday nights on the Portland Avenue campus and on the beach during summer. (Grant McPherson photo) Jayme Villanueva, operations manager of Milestone Recovery campus in Old Orchard Beach is hopeful MaineCare coverage will be available for more people soon.

“We are 100 percent MaineCare paid for,” Villanueva said. “Most long term treatment is MaineCare. The issue is MaineCare cuts beginning in 2014. The people cut from service were primarily single adult males. They might not have enough of a disability or mental health issue, so they don’t qualify. We’ve struggled to keep beds full of people who are looking for treatment.”

The Milestone Recovery long term treatment facility in Old Orchard Beach has 16 long-term beds and 15 in transitional housing. Milestone also operates the state’s only substance use disorder emergency shelter, which has 41 beds in Portland. Villanueva said there are only two other long term treatment centers in the state, another Milestone detox center in Portland and St. Mary’s in Lewiston.

Patients tend to stay at the Old Orchard Beach facility anywhere from six to nine months, and Villanueva said it’s meant for people who haven’t had success with other treatment programs in the past. Residents wake up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and spend about 25 hours per week in group sessions, discussing past substance use, trauma, relapse and prevention.

Every year, residents make holiday wreaths as well and sell them the first week of December through Christmas. The house is not staffed 24 hours a day, and everyone living there is expected to carry a certain amount of responsibility.

“A peer led hierarchy is built into the clients,” Villanueva said. “They run the house and live and function as a family. They have opportunities to talk about issues they need to resolve with support from staff. Ninety-nine percent of them function well together. But a lot of them don’t know how to have fun without using, so they learn how to do that.”

Milestone also allows patients who have already been through the program once to come back if they’ve had a relapse while away from the Portland Avenue campus. That’s important for people like James Hawks, a resident at Milestone Recovery in Old Orchard Beach, who said he hasn’t found another treatment center that will readmit him. He’s struggled with alcoholism and returned to Milestone after initially leaving at the end of the summer. Hawks said he tends to isolate himself while using and the community model at Milestone helped him realize he is not alone.

“Being able to get perspectives from 14 or 15 different men … really helped me,” he said. “We all share a common bond but we haven’t had exactly the same experience. We don’t just work on relapse prevention. We center on substance abuse and any old behavior that’s correlated such as lying, stealing or dishonesty. A lot of it is really trying to become the best version of ourselves we’ve always wanted to be.”

Villanueva said listening to the men’s stories is one of staff’s biggest emotional challenges. She said many struggle with the negative perceptions that come with substance use and recovery, and drug and alcohol abuse often begins as a way to cope with painful experiences. Villanueva said the first month is the most difficult, as facing recovery takes a lot of time and energy.

“It’s not for everybody,” she said. “It’s a hard intensive program and not a good fit for certain people. Some come and decide after three weeks it’s not for them, others stick it out six to nine months and stay on campus. Sometimes people come back because they weren’t ready the first time. They might come back more than once. Recovery is one of those things you have to be ready for and it’s not always the first time.”

Another resident at Milestone, Ken Morrow, said finding an agency can be just as difficult.

“There is nothing like this north of Bangor,” he said. “I’m happy and privileged to be here. There is help out there but it’s hard to find agencies. Don’t think you’re alone out there suffering.”

Jeff Holmes, a Milestone resident, said the stigma of substance use and recovery is one of the reasons that makes treatment so difficult to find.

“The hardest part about even calling here just to check it out was to be honest with myself and admit that I was wrong,” he said. “It is a disease. We are the ones that decided to pick up the drink or the drug but in the same aspect, a lot of that comes from the environment we grew up in. More and more people are needing programs like this.”

Villanueva said because of the restrictions on MaineCare, the Old Orchard Beach campus usually has open beds for those who qualify. She encouraged anyone seeking treatment to call and check availability frequently.

“One guy who lives here now waited nine months and called every week to say he still wanted to come,” Villanueva said.

Holmes said after 40 years of addiction, he understands it will be a long process to change, but it’s easier to do so with support.

“We do call each other out when necessary and do hold each other accountable,” he said. “Because we’re all peers here I think it comes across much better than having a clinician tell you how to run your life. Just know that other people have this same disease and not feeling alone is a big part of this program. It’s a learned behavior and anything learned can be unlearned too.”

For treatment options call Milestone Recovery at 775- 4790 or Maegan Lambert-Irish with the Saco Biddeford Opiod Outreach Initiative at 710-1785.

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