Finding a place to recover

The SEK Recovery House officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house earlier this week. One resident shared her experience.

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May 19, 2022 - 3:38 PM

Thrive Allen County staff and others were on hand to celebrate the official opening and ribbon cutting for the SEK Recovery House. Pictured in front, from left, are Thrive’s Marcia Davis, Sheriff Bryan Murphy, Thrive’s Rural Health Coordinator April Jackson and Thrive CEO Lisse Regher. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

The SEK Recovery House is giving Mary a chance to get back on her feet.

Mary, not her real name, moved in on April 27.

“When I came here, I was homeless and in an abusive relationship. I walked in that door and I was scared and hopeless,” she said. “I needed a place to stay where I wouldn’t get hurt or robbed, and I could stay sober.”

She completed a 28-day stay at a rehabilitation center just before Christmas, then went to jail to serve a 15-day sentence.

When she was released, her probation officer suggested she find some type of recovery housing.

Instead, Mary ended up staying with friends. After an encounter with her ex, Mary decided to follow her probation officer’s advice. A friend took her to the SEK Recovery House.

The house is operated by Thrive Allen County and the Southeast Kansas Substance Misuse Prevention Coalition. The public was invited to attend an open house on Tuesday.

Mary stopped to share her story with a couple of visitors. 

She started using methamphetamines when she was 43; she’s now 56. Around the time she started using meth, several close family members died within a few years of each other.

“It just put me over the edge,” she said. “I used to drink and drinking wasn’t working anymore. A friend introduced me to meth, and I didn’t have to feel anymore.”

That led to legal problems and put her in the middle of sometimes dangerous situations. 

Since arriving at the recovery house, things have been better. Mary and her dog have their own room. 

Patty Sanborn, executive director of Southeast Kansas, Inc., second from right, tours the SEK Recovery House with April Jackson, far right. Photo by Vickie Moss

Three others live at the house, and Mary said she thinks they see her as a sort of mother figure. 

“All of us are brand new in recovery. We are learning how to stay sober,” she said. “We depend on April. She’s an angel.”

Mary referred to April Jackson, Thrive’s Rural Health Coordinator, who organized the recovery house program.

The goal of the house is to provide safe and affordable housing for those who are going through recovery from substance misuse. Narcotics Anonymous meetings are offered, along with access to other resources. 

“It’s more than I expected,” Jackson said of the first few months of the program. 

“All the residents get along. That’s the goal of the house, to be a source of support for each other.”

THE OPEN house and ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday gave the public an opportunity to see the house and how it works.

The open house comes as at least one area resident has expressed concern about the house’s proximity to Iola High School. However, there are no laws restricting such a facility and it meets applicable zoning laws.

Patty Sanborn, executive director of Southeast Kansas, Inc., tours the SEK Recovery House with April Jackson.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

THE EVENT also offered a special presentation of a virtual interview with author Sam Quinones, a journalist, former LA Times reporter and author. His latest book, “The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth,” takes a hard look at synthetic opioids like fentanyl and psychostimulants like methamphetamine.

“We are in the era of synthetic drugs,” Quinones said in the interview.

For drug traffickers, synthetic drugs make good sense, Quinones said. In general, it’s a more profitable business model than plant-based drugs.

Most of the illegal drugs in the U.S. are made in Mexico, and it’s easier to manufacture synthetic drugs than plant-based substances. Traffickers there have control over shipping ports, Quinones said, which allows them to distribute the drugs with less risk. 

“This is what you are facing in your communities right now.”

Quinones has spent much of his career in Mexico, initially reporting on immigration before shifting his focus to the opioid epidemic and now synthetic drugs.

Author Dan Quinones appears in a virtual interview.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

His perspective changed after viewing the situation from the other side of the border.

He thought the problem was demand, that Americans wanted the drugs and so suppliers made more.

Instead, he says, supply is driving the demand. He compares it as similar to the opioid epidemic, where prescription drug manufacturers created a huge market for pain medication.

Now, drugs like fentanyl and meth are easy to make and distribute, and offered at lower prices than other types of substances.

“These drugs just don’t stop coming,” he said. “This is a supply-driven story to me.”

Synthetic drugs, particularly fentanyl, are more dangerous than other types of drugs such as heroin or cocaine because they squelch the survival instinct, Quinones said. With other types of drugs, users develop “the gift of desperation.” That’s when a person “hits bottom” and realizes they need to make changes.

“They say fentanyl changes everything and that’s absolutely true,” he said. “Nobody lasts on the streets using fentanyl. People will die or go mad.”

He also discussed the role of trauma, and how a lack of connectedness and an “epidemic of loneliness” can lead people to seek drugs as a way to cope.

Recovery methods need to adapt in order to meet the changing needs of society and the influx of dangerous new drugs, Quinones said. 

He’s an advocate of incorporating recovery programs in jail.

For some who misuse drugs, jail can be a blessing in disguise. 

“Rethinking jails is so important. For some people, it’s absolutely the reason they got sober. But for a lot of people, it’s a traumatic experience that doesn’t do anything positive.”

Jail programs can provide medically assisted treatment strategies and resources for recovery after incarceration. 

He also advocates for drug courts and early intervention programs. 

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