RI city's program turns firehouses into havens for opioid addicts
Safe Stations turned all 12 of Providence's firehouses into safe havens for people seeking treatment for their addictions
By Madeleine List
PROVIDENCE, R.I — Last December, Adrienne Wood was in the throes of an opioid addiction. Family members didn't trust her. Friends abandoned her. Her daughters wouldn't talk to her.
"I spent my Christmas in a hotel, using," she said during a recent interview at a coffee shop. "I remember I dropped off a card for my daughter before she left....
"It was not a happy time," she said.
This year, though, things are looking up.
Wood, 36, who has been clean for almost a year, started down her road to recovery with a visit to a Providence Safe Station on Feb. 19.
Safe Stations is the name of a program, launched Jan. 2, that turned all 12 of the city's firehouses into safe havens for people seeking treatment for their addictions.
The program, which Providence adopted from fire departments in Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire, allows people to come into any fire station at any time and be connected to recovery counselors within 15 minutes.
Fire stations make the perfect centers for this program because they are open 24/7, staffed by trained EMTs, and aren't associated with law enforcement, said Providence Fire Capt. Zachariah Kenyon, who launched the city's Safe Stations program.
"The beauty of the program is really you're just providing access at any point in time, day or night, to treatment and recovery coaches ... because a lot of times when people are ready, they have no idea where to go," he said. "This way, somebody has a known spot that they can just go to and say, 'Hey, I'm here for help.'"
As of Dec. 13, Providence Safe Stations had received 63 visits from 60 unique participants, according to Victor Morente, press secretary for Mayor Jorge Elorza.
The most frequently used stations, which account for 60 percent of visits, are the stations at the Providence Public Safety Complex at 325 Washington St.; 151 N. Main St.; and 201 Messer St. in the West End.
Wood's is a success story.
"This is what saved my life," she said of the Safe Stations program.
Wood struggled with addiction for more than 10 years. Though she went through bursts of "white-knuckling it" where she stopped using for periods of time, she wasn't able to shake her addiction, and stays at numerous detoxes and treatment centers didn't seem to help.
So when her grandmother, who had always been a source of support for her, died, Wood decided she wanted to try again to get clean. Her father had heard about the Safe Stations program on the news and told her to go to a fire station.
"My cousin decided to take me to a fire station on Branch Avenue," she said. "All the firefighters came around. It was very warm and welcoming to know how nice they were."
The firefighters checked her vital signs and offered her food and water while she waited for two counselors to arrive from Anchor Recovery Community Center, an addiction treatment organization that falls under The Providence Center.
The pair of counselors, or "recovery coaches," sat with Wood until they could check her into a detox facility at Butler Hospital, she said.
"When you're at the bottom, you're not freshly showered and don't have the cleanest clothes, you're not looking your best," she said. "To have people that weren't scared to sit next to you, and weren't scared to give you that hug when you needed it, it was important."
Anchor has six recovery coaches who work for the Safe Stations program, and at any given time there are always two on call, said Jonathan Goyer, manager of Anchor's community outreach program.
After that initial contact at the fire station, the individual seeking help will be paired with one of the coaches, all of whom are in recovery themselves, he said.
"What makes Safe Stations different than other programs is that it's immediate access to treatment and recovery," said Goyer, who himself has been to treatment 38 times.
Often when someone is willing to get treatment, "that window of willingness may only be open three minutes, five minutes, an hour," he said. "This program really capitalizes on the willingness of individuals."
After her stay at Butler Hospital, Wood was able to move into a sober-living home in Cranston and receive a grant from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, which allowed her to cover her expenses while she looked for a job.
Sarah Edwards, her recovery coach at Anchor, has been by her side throughout her journey.
"Even when I felt like I couldn't do it, Sarah would magically call, and she'd be like, 'You can. You can do it. You are worth it,'" Wood said.
Edwards said she knows how important that consistent calling and relentless checking in can be, because of her own history with addiction.
"I think just my own personal experience is one of the greatest motivators I have, because I've been there, and I understand how difficult it can be," she said. "For me, I just needed somebody there to tell me that it's going to be okay and that I can do this."
Edwards recalled a major turning point in Wood's recovery — when she moved out of the sober home and into an apartment where she was paying rent and bills on her own.
"While that may seem little to some people, when you're overcoming your addiction and living a life in recovery, that's a big deal," Edwards said. "I remember how proud she was in that moment and how happy she was, and my feelings were the same for her."
Safe Stations are open to those who want help with any type of addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol, Kenyon said, and people should know the stations are open around the clock, especially during the holidays, which can be a difficult time of year for many struggling with addiction.
"We're here," he said. "If you feel you're ready for help, just come ring the doorbell. We're waiting for you."
Wood, who now lives in Providence and works at LensCrafters, has been regaining the trust of her family members, repairing broken relationships and setting small, achievable goals for herself.
She's even found new joy in activities she never knew she could like.
"I crochet," she said, giggling. "I read a little bit. I try to stay up to date with the news and check the weather. All these things that people take for granted and just do, I had to learn how to do again."
And this Christmas, she said, she wouldn't be alone.
"My daughter who wasn't talking to me is actually going to spend the night with me on Christmas," she said. "My other daughter that's in Florida calls me all the time and FaceTimes me.
"Having that is the best gift that I could ever have for Christmas."
Copyright 2018 Providence Journal