Attorneys are on board to help those with addictions

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Cooley Law Professor Lauren Rousseau says that volunteering for a local treatment program for the addicted helps to ease the pain, helplessness, and frustration that she experienced when dealing with addiction in someone she loved.

In February of 2010, Rousseau became the legal guardian for her youngest son's best friend after his mother died. Jake was a 17-year-old high school senior when he came to live with Rousseau and her family. Over the next two years, his drug use escalated into full-blown heroin addiction.

After Rousseau discovered him trying to shoot heroin in October of 2011, he began an odyssey of treatment efforts that included an outpatient program (he was thrown out after three weeks for testing positive for heroin); weekly visits with a psychologist; a two-week inpatient stay at Brighton Center for Recovery (he used the day he was released); and another two-week stay at the Henry Ford Maplegrove Center.

Within 48 hours of his release, he was back on heroin. Tragically, his life ended a few days later when he was murdered by a man who then killed himself. He would have turned 20 in four days.

"During those two years with Jake, I learned a tremendous amount about addiction and recovery, and the heartbreak of the last six months of his life and his death created a passion in me to help people like Jake and me," Rousseau said.

For about six months, she worked in admissions at Brighton Center for Recovery on a voluntary basis, meeting for hours with incoming patients and family. About half the patients she met were young kids addicted to heroin ages 18 to 23.

"Each one of them was Jake to me, and the family members were in varying states of distress, fear, ignorance, helplessness," she said. "Meeting with these people cemented in my mind the importance of this work. Addiction is heartbreaking and traumatizing and tragic, not only for the addict, but for those who love him or her."

She recalls one young girl she met at Brighton who was entering treatment for the seventh time.

"I spent two hours talking with her - she was wonderful, and I saw her a week into her treatment," Rousseau said. "She was bubbly and grateful to be clean. She gave me a big hug."

Two weeks after her release, she died of a heroin overdose.

"It is an absolutely baffling, terrible disease," she said.

Eager to do more, Rousseau looked into Home of New Vision, a nonprofit agency that provides treatment and support for people suffering from addiction.

"Home of New Vision is not a large organization, but they are comprehensive in the services they provide and the services are stellar and well-respected," said Rousseau.

"They have a very compassionate approach, they listen to their clients, recognize that addiction isn't one-size-fits-all, and neither is recovery. They work with their clients to find the best fit of programs/approaches that suit the clients' needs."

Rousseau and attorneys John Reiser and Michael Johnson are among HNV's eight board members. They attend monthly meetings, review and approve various matters, discuss direction of the agency, approve the financials, and serve on committees.

Reiser said he is drawn to the work of HNV because he sees and deals with the consequences of addiction every day as a Washtenaw County assistant prosecutor.

"I've often seen firsthand how addiction affects the lives of defendants, their families, and victims of crime," said Reiser.

He said that while Washtenaw County is lucky to have more resources than other counties, including a juvenile drug court, the 15th District Sobriety Court and treatment providers such as HNV and Dawn Farm, recent local heroin overdoses indicate there is still a long way to go.

"Like the other two attorneys who volunteer to serve on Home of New Vision's board, I'm proud to do what I can do to help deal with the addictions that cause so many people so much pain," he said.

HNV founder and CEO Glynis Anderson has overcome nearly 20 years of addiction to find lasting recovery. She earned her MSW and worked with addicts before starting HNV.

"I started watching women in the community dying of this disease, and I was going to these funerals, with these kids walking to the podium crying for the mothers they loved regardless if she was an addict," she recalled. "I thought: We need a place for these women to go, to get them some resources, support, and love."

She started HNV in 1996 with a single recovery residence. Over time, HNV added additional recovery homes, and there are now four--two for men and two for women, as well as an outpatient treatment program, an inpatient residential program with detoxification, case managers, peer supports, and various educational and action groups.

Most of the facilities are in Ann Arbor, but HNV also has a Jackson Recovery Resource Center in Jackson, and an ''Engagement Center'' in Ypsilanti where someone who is intoxicated or high can go, get a shower, meal, sober up, and get guidance from skilled staff who work to steer them towards a recovery program.

"The Engagement Center is operated by a caring, loving and passionate staff, many of whom are in recovery themselves and know how important that one contact can be," said Anderson. "These clients may never make it back alive. We monitor them for health purposes during their stay, they visit with a peer, and we assist them in accessing other services like health care and treatment."

HNV's $2 million budget is supported mostly by grants and contract work.

Anderson said the Washtenaw County attorneys help make it the best board in HNV's history.

"John's new on the board, and already I can see he's so enthusiastic and really cares about the population and wants to do the right thing," she said. "Lauren's just a go-getter, and Michael's our quiet, calm, sensible one. All these personalities are amazing to me."

Johnson, who works for Synod Community Services which serves those with mental illness, says the missions are similar. His legal expertise came in handy when he helped rewrite the bylaws.

HNV Associate Executive Director Julie Cushman said success is measured in the lives of those who go on to recover and make something of their lives, and that success is partly measured by the hopes and goals of those who formerly had neither.

"The first part is getting someone to stop using, but there is so much more to it that will keep somebody in recovery," she said. "So we encourage people not to use and people can grit their teeth to not use, but if they don't have a life and they don't have a purpose, there's no reason for them to stay in recovery."

When Rousseau heard that actor Cory Monteith had died from a heroin overdose, her resolve to help other struggling addicts was reinforced.

"It drives home once again," she says, "how tragic and powerful this disease can be."

Published: Thu, Jul 25, 2013

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