The opioid and heroin epidemic is considered to be the most significant public health crisis facing Pennsylvania.
The Twin Lakes Rehabilitation Center in Somerset County is like a triage center. There is a waiting list to get treatment.
“This really in the non-discriminating disease. It can get anyone,” warns counselor Eric Millender.
He would know. Millinder battled drug and alcohol addiction for 12 years. He said there are addicts who want to get help, but it’s hard to find.
Millinder said Pennsylvania needs to have more beds for its treatment facilities. Twin Lakes recently obtained grant money that will provide more beds for its residential program and increase resources in its outpatient facilities.
“In our Ebensburg office we just added another counselor and I was looking some of our data the other day and we were able to see over 400 more individual sessions just in that office by adding one counselor,” said Millinder.
Justin Patton said the staff at Twin Lakes gave him a chance when no one else would. The Johnstown native had his first drink at age 12 and eventually he was committing burglary to support a drug addiction. He has been clean for just over a year, but admits everyday is a challenge.
“In some towns drug dealers will walk right up to your cars.”
Patton said drug dealers don’t wait for a phone call to schedule a buy. Instead they walk the streets and lurk into businesses hoping to spot a drug user that is in need of a quick fix.
“If you hand it to me right now I’m going to find closest bathrooms and wait until you guys look away and do it under the table,” said Patton. “It just happens to be a Sheetz or a Wal-mart. Those businesses are not responsible, but these drugs are everywhere and in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect.”
Patton believes local police are understaffed and towns don’t have the resources to help.
Counselor Paul Moreau said we need an approach that is “all hands on deck.”
“Can you imagine if we were losing ten soldiers a day in Afghanistan what would be going on in the community?”
Twin Lakes Rehabilitation Center is organizing a special community forum called “We Will Recover.”
It will be held March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Johnstown High School.
For more details call 814-443-3639, or visit the center’s website.
Moreau spent 30 years in the military. He runs a tight ship at Twin Lakes.
He is always finding ways to motivate the patients that come to the center. He likes to carry a grenade and it comes with a little story.
“Addiction is a disease. It’s like a grenade. You have to carry it with you the rest of your life and the idea is to get into treatment so you don’t pull the pin. Because if you pull the pin the disease is progressive and you’re back from where you started from, or worse.”
Stars hang from one hallway in the building. It is a stark reminder of those who lost their battle with addiction. The journey is not an easy one, but Moreau said many people are able to overcome their demons.
He pointed to a couple of brooms that are filled with ribbons. The ribbons offer messages of hope from those who made it through.
“It’s a source of pride that people do recover. All the time we see little miracles in this building every single day,” said Moreau.
The staff at Twin Lakes say they take a holistic approach towards treatment. They don’t use methadone. Instead classes run from 8-10 hours a day and include exercise and nutrition programs and support groups. Patients are then required to attend months of out-patient treatment.
The staff wants people to know there is help out there, but you have to be willing to take the first step.
Patton is just one of many examples of hope.
“The truth is we do recover in Johnstown, we do get clean in Johnstown.”