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'Steep Learning Curve' For Addiction Recovery Programs Amid Social Distancing

The RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Paul Franz
The Recorder / recorder.com
The RECOVER Project on Federal Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

A lot of recovery programs happen in person — meetings for people who are trying to overcome addictions of all kinds. That sort of in-person interaction is now limited by social distancing guidelines meant to control the spread of the new coronavirus. 

Peggy Vezina leads The RECOVER Project in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and she says following those guidelines can be very challenging.

Peggy Vezina, RECOVER Project: It is people's natural inclination to reach out, especially to someone who is in need. And so it's really been a steep learning curve for all of us to maintain those distances, and follow the other protocols, as well.

We've moved our operations to 74 Federal Street, where it's just a little bit easier to set up the space in a way where, you know, we have our chairs set up, and they are a six-foot distance apart. And yet it doesn't feel so bad.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: The RECOVER Project mantra, I was noticing, is to participate, grow and recover. So what does "participate" look like now?

It's a challenge. It's very much a challenge, particularly here in our rural community. A lot of our members are really stretched around just having their basic needs met. Some of them are in the shelter, and have been for some time. It's very difficult to get them engaged in a virtual way.

Virtual meetings work well for people further along in their recovery, who have more resources, who are working, typically. And those folks seem to be doing well. We are holding our all-recovery meeting every morning, And then our staff are available to help people with resources.

A lot of that has been helping people get phones who don't have phones. As soon as this started, that's what we started to focus on, is identifying who needed cell phones. And we've been helping people apply for the free phones online. And then the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium — which is our umbrella organization — they purchased a number of phones that are available, and some tablets as well. So we've been trying to get those connected to people who need them.

You've been leading The RECOVER Project for not very long. Was this kind of sudden ramp-up of providing the scaffolding of infrastructure to the clients where you thought you would be when you started this job?

No. It's very center-based, and that's the history. The RECOVER Project here in Greenfield is the oldest recovery center in the state.

What I started to feel, shortly after starting — which is about a year and a half ago — you know, the face of the opioid epidemic has really changed things dramatically. And I feel like we needed to respond to that.

So we've been working to find funding and support for our building inclusive communities of recovery program. You know, we've been working to do that, through outreach to these communities, and see how we can support them, and connect them.

And so in a sense, this is what we were gearing up for. But on the other hand, it's also limiting right now because, you know, we can't do a lot of that kind of outreach. Places like libraries, and other places, [are] where we would typically try to set up a perch, and bring all recovery meetings out into the community. But now we can't. So it's a little bit of a challenge how to do this.

But at least I feel like we were moving in the right direction. And so now it's just a matter of getting creative on how we do this.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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