Do no harm: New substance program at work in Cottage Grove

Holly Serrano detoxed for four days in a Native American sweat lodge. It was because, she said, the experience of recovery has to be equal to or greater than the addiction. Now, armed with a master’s degree, she is helping guide other people through the process as part of the new substance use recovery program at South Lane Mental Health. 

Serrano works with a team of mental health professionals and peer supporters at the center, located on 5th St. in Cottage Grove. Since its grand opening in May of this year, it has served nearly 100 individuals. But the journey to get here has been two years in the making. 

“South Lane Mental Health made the decision two years ago to expand treatment to include substance use treatment,” Serrano said. “We wanted to treat substance use in the context of mental health.” 

Grants helped the program get on its feet after Serrano joined four other individuals in crafting the content. “When they said they wanted to do this we asked, ‘Can we come at it from a harm reduction standpoint?’” she said. 

While traditional 30, 60 or 90-day programs focus on sobriety, the substance use program at South Lane Mental Health utilizes harm reduction—a concept that allows individuals to choose whether or not to kick a substance completely. 

“Maybe their goal is employment,” Serrano said. “They need to cut their drinking down enough to maintain employment or maybe they want to moderate their substance use so their relationship with their significant other is better.” The goal, according to Serrano, is to reduce the use of substances to allow individuals to function in a productive manner. 

To do that, the program can service people for as long as they’re willing to receive treatment, rather than the traditional 90-days covered by insurance at traditional addiction programs. South Lane Mental Health’s program is also covered by Medicaid but also offers payment options for the $175 a month price tag.

“It’s less than their substance of choice,” Serrano said. 

The price covers the entirety of treatment which consists of an approach built around a team system. It’s an approach Jody Rolnick, community and relations development director for South Lane Mental Health says is unique.

Every patient is paired with a team of mental health professionals, certified counselors and peer supporters who are comparable to Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors. “They’re just people who have lived that experience and have gone through treatment and understand the barriers to that. They know what it’s like to face obstacles,” Serrano said.

After a 90-minute intake session, individuals in the program start to face those obstacles but are guided through the program by Serrano and staff.

At the rented building on 5th. St., there’s a lobby with fresh coffee, breakfast foods and a fireplace. In the summer, it acted as a cooling station. This winter, it will most likely serve as the opposite. People experiencing homelessness are welcome to come in, Serrano said, but those seeking treatment will find more than a cup of coffee. A donated pool table sits just beyond the coffee corner. Bistro tables dot the room and a foosball table is disguised as a coffee table.

The lobby gives way to a music room that houses guitars bought with grant funding, drums that Serrano said are popular for anger management, and amps brought in my South Lane Mental Health staff. The curtains in this room close, to give people privacy as they hold jam sessions or quietly strum through a rough patch. It’s part of the program’s approach. There are four other rooms, just like the “emotional” room that houses the guitars, and they revolve around the five aspects of treatment. The spiritual room has an alter made by patience and posters detailing the program’s spiritual foundation: love, hope, peace, joy and faith. A water fountain in the corner is meant to add a sense of calm. The physical room—or the gym—is just that. People work out there. They get stronger there. “It’s good for chronic pain,” Serrano said. “For people coming off opioids, there’s strength training to get their bodies ready.” A conference room just to the left of the entrance has been made to look like a professor’s office. There, groups go through Ted Talks and work through the steps to recovery.

All in an effort to provide a harm reduction-based treatment plan to return substance users to their lives. According to the Oregon Health Authority’s 2014 study on substance use, 4,182 people died from unintentional overdoses between 2000 and 2012. 15,230 were hospitalized during the same timeframe.

The rooms and the team approach are the foundation of the substance use program but the essence of understanding and outreach is the backbone. Serrano says team members go out into the community and have worked with enrolled treatment seekers in their homes and out in the community.

If someone is going through detox and is dealing with depression or exhaustion, the team takes up housekeeping chores with them. Trips to the grocery store, walks around town, the team reaches its patients where they are. “For them to set down the drug and pick up life,” Serrano said, “Life has to be better.”


Video News
More In City