NH Safe Stations recognized at first responders breakfast

Natacha Davis stood before 300 first responders and told them how the caring she found at a fire station helped her to finally overcome her addiction

By Shawne Wickham
The New Hampshire Union Leader

NASHUA, N.H. — It’s the compassion that made the difference.

Natacha Davis stood before 300 people at a Valentine’s Day first responders breakfast and told them how the caring she found at a Nashua fire station last year helped her to finally overcome the substance use disorder she had struggled with for years.

Organizers of the third annual benefit, sponsored by Harbor Homes and Keystone Hall, were hoping to raise $100,000 for the city’s Safe Stations program.

In an interview later, Davis, a 31-year-old Nashua native, told the Union Leader that she had gone to a fire station for help not long after the Safe Stations program began in November 2016. But she said, “I wasn’t ready at that time. I was scared.”

She was back in and out of rehab for a while after that, and finally reached a breaking point. “I don’t think anybody really realizes how painful substance use disorder is, physically, emotionally and mentally,” she said. “It takes a toll on you.”

It was her mother who convinced Davis to try Safe Stations again last April 5. She went to the East Hollis Street fire station, “and when I walked in there, they welcomed me with warm arms,” she said.

Firefighters on duty took her vital signs and information; EMTs from American Medical Response (AMR) checked her out and brought her to a mobile crisis center.

That kindness from strangers changed her life, she said. “It was a judgment-free zone,” she said. “That’s helped me push forward. They gave me that hope and showed me that they really care.”

That’s the kind of comments Chris Stawacz said firefighters and EMTs hear from Safe Stations participants all the time. Stawacz, the regional director of AMR, which provides ambulance services in Nashua and Manchester, was honored Thursday for his role in creating and supporting the program here.

Since Safe Stations began, he told the crowd, “More than 2,600 people from every city in New Hampshire and more than 150 towns have walked into a Nashua fire station seeking immediate, non-judgmental access to recovery services.”

“Think about that,” Stawacz said. “That’s a lot of people.”

After she sought help from Safe Stations, Davis spent a week at Harbor Homes’ respite center for medical detox and then went to a residential treatment program. She now participates in drug court and is a volunteer recovery coach at Revive Recovery Center.

She plans to pursue a career in the recovery field. “I feel like that’s my purpose,” she said.

Davis said she had her first taste of alcohol when she was 12; she started abusing Percocet in her mid-20s and was introduced to heroin a few years later. “It just took off from there,” she said.

What she now understands is that she used substances to numb the pain from trauma that began in childhood and continued into adulthood with an abusive partner. She was pregnant at 16 and was in the Youth Development Center when her oldest daughter was born.

Davis now has “three beautiful children,” she said — 14- and 11-year-old daughters and a 10-year-old son. “Honestly, I put my kids through a lot, emotionally,” she said.

But her kids and her mom have supported her through her struggles, she said. “My kids, they’re my rock,” she said. “They’re very proud of me. They tell me all the time.”

The way she was treated at Safe Stations helped her take the next steps, Davis said. “The fear of rejection is major,” she said. “People don’t understand that when you encounter somebody with a substance use disorder, the way you treat them determines which road they take.”

Recovery folks have a saying: “A sentence saves a life,” Davis said. “The way you speak to somebody that’s suffering from substance use disorder could either make them or break them,” she said.

“Going into a Safe Station and feeling not judged, feeling like they genuinely cared” she said, “made me feel comfortable, made me feel safe and made me feel like everything was going to be OK.”

Stawacz said fatal overdoses are down and people are getting help in Nashua thanks to the vision of the city’s leaders, the dedication of its public servants and the support of donors like those at the breakfast.

“We have not stopped the opioid epidemic,” he said. “What we have done is help bring an already close-knit group of talented and caring Nashuans even closer together for a common goal of saving lives, offering help, and improving the quality of life in our community.”

Beyond the Stigma, a series exploring solutions to the state’s addiction and mental health challenges, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire, and private individuals. 

Copyright 2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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