Addiction: Navigating the system

‘Lunch and Learn’ links health professionals in the region.

The opposite of addiction is connection, and with that notion, 20 health professionals from around the Island and region gathered last Thursday, June 20, for a “Lunch and Learn” at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living in Vineyard Haven. 

“I wake up every day, and I realize I’m an addict and I’m an alcoholic,” said Brian Morris, mental health and substance use disorder access coordinator at Island Health Care. “I’m going to stay sober today, and I’m going to do so by talking to other addicts and alcoholics — meeting them where they are, and helping them get to where they need to go.” 

Next steps for addicts, be it after detox or inpatient programs, can be difficult to navigate, especially on Martha’s Vineyard, where some services don’t exist. 

“Oftentimes, we’re not tapping into the best possible resource,” Morris said. He gestured toward Nancy Merrill and Arden O’Connor. “These are our dot connectors, and I really think these folks represent places and ideas that we can tap into fully.” 

Nancy Merrill is the program director for McLean Hospital’s alcohol and drug abuse services, and Arden O’Connor is the founder of O’Connor Professional Group. They spoke to Thursday’s group of invested healthcare professionals, including representatives from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the M.V. Hospital, Healthy Aging M.V., Vineyard House, M.V. Substance Use Disorder Coalition, Health Imperatives Family Planning, as well as recovery coaches, licensed therapists, and parents of addicts.
“McLean is known for being really impossible to figure out how to get into,” Merrill said. “That card on the table will get you access to me, and get you access to McLean.” 

McLean has just shy of 500 beds across its 64 clinical programs. The alcohol and drug abuse services program has a detox unit with 21 beds, a small outpatient clinic that offers Vivitrol and Suboxone, a partial hospital program with day treatments like individual and group therapy, and an array of inpatient residential programs. Fernside and Borden Cottage are eight-bed residential programs with an average stay of 30 days. Naukeag is a 30-bed program with an average stay of 14 to 17 days. All inpatient units take insurance, “but the downside is, they’re almost always full,” Merrill said. 

McLean works with organizations like O’Connor Professional Group to provide additional resources and consultation for people struggling with what to do next. 

O’Connor Professional Group was founded eight years ago. “I wanted to help families like ours,” O’Connor said. Both of her brothers and her father are in recovery. The O’Connor Group targets four services: addiction, mental health, eating disorders, and autism spectrum disorder. “We have everything from recovery coaching to interventions, to coming up with what placement might be appropriate for families,” O’Connor said. “We like to know about providers in all communities.” 

O’Connor believes recovery coaching, parent/spousal coaching, collaborating clinicians, and long-term support are key contributors to recovery success. Since compliance is often one of the biggest hurdles for addicts, O’Connor Professional Group looks at a pilots-and-physicians model as an example of how to get people into recovery.

“If you’re a pilot or a physician with an addictive disorder, what we learned is you look at the pilot-physician boards,” O’Connor said. “If somebody runs into trouble, they’re reported to those licensing boards, and licensing boards determine what services [addicts] receive, where they go for treatment, and the license is used as leverage to get them to comply. And the big distinction I would say is, not only do they have leverage in the license, but they also require long-term monitoring, so their statistics are successful.”
Individuals are monitored for up to five years, and the sobriety rate is 80 to 90 percent, according to O’Connor. The O’Connor Professional Group tries to apply that model to families. “We’re trying to get the parents to use whatever leverage they have to get someone to be compliant over the long term,” she said. Financial and emotional pressures are examples of leverage. “Can we just make life a little less comfortable until they might be willing to do something?” O’Connor said. 

O’Connor Professional Group services are paid out of pocket. Basic consultation is between $1,500 and $5,000, and monthly coaching can be anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on client location. O’Connor serves individuals and families all over the country.

Both O’Connor and Merrill see a wave of popularity on the recovery coaching model. One of McLean’s next projects is focused on integrating more recovery coaches into its alcohol and substance use division. 

“It’s a little bit like a nurse practitioner doing some of the duties of a doctor,” O’Connor said. “People come back to life, and they need all sorts of support, whether it’s job support or basic things like how to get organized, how to get back into exercise, nutrition. They’re sober, but they’re very fragile … Martha’s Vineyard is particularly lucky to have recovery coaches available for a broad audience of people.”

For more information on McLean Hospital and its services, visit mcleanhospital.org. For more information on O’Connor Professional Group and its services, visit oconnorpg.com.