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Addiction Recovery Groups Turn To Technology For Human Connection

Reclaiming Lives Facdebook
The Medford-based nonprofit Reclaiming Lives hosts regular Facebook Live sessions with people who share their stories of their recovery.

Oregon has long struggled with high rates of addiction — an average of four Oregonians die every day because of alcohol or other drug abuse, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

But when everyone is encouraged to stay home, recovering from addiction can be challenging. One of the key components of addiction recovery is finding a group of supporters, like a regular AA meeting, and connecting over shared experiences.

“This really vulnerable population of people in recovery — people who work hard at recovery — have had their whole recovery support system pretty much disappear overnight,” says Mike Marshall, the co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers.

In Medford, the nonprofit Reclaiming Lives has turned to technology. It hosts regular Facebook Live sessions with people who can share their stories of addiction. It also organizes weekly Zoom meet-ups between groups that would have normally met in-person at its weekly Recovery Cafe.

“Technology is interesting; it could be really great for some of our single moms who have issues with finding child care, or people who have immune deficiencies where they can’t really be in the general population because of their health care needs,” says Executive Director Stephanie Mendenhall. “So I could see, moving forward, where maybe the Zoom concept is something we could implement in order to serve more people.”

But not everyone is open to the idea of communicating through Facebook Live, Zoom, or other software  — like older generations that aren’t comfortable with the new technology.

“They might be 30 years sober and they have an AA meeting that they go to every Tuesday night — because that's part of their social life — and all of a sudden that's taken away,” Marshall says.

Marshall adds that he’s concerned about how the pandemic will impact addiction recovery centers financially.

“It’s a real danger to the long-term system because treatment providers are reimbursed for people in beds, and not for beds,” Marshall says. “They have to reduce down to a third of what they normally have.”

Marshall encourages everyone to reach out to their friends and family who have struggled with addiction in the past, since their support system has been disrupted. For anyone who may be fighting an addiction, Marshall suggests they speak to someone who has had a similar experience.

“Everybody who’s in recovery that I know is incredibly proud of being in recovery,” Marshall says. “The way most of us learn how to be in recovery is to be of service to other people struggling with the disease of addiction.”

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.