A bicycle has helped keep Chris Collins sober.
For the last three or four years, he and two friends in recovery have chosen miles-long rides over alcohol or drugs, pumping pedals to get pumped by the fresh air and the natural endorphins the brain releases during exercise.
On Friday, Collins and buddies Mike Romanoski and Kannan Kristel led a half-dozen teens working to overcome addiction along the Gurney Lane Recreation Area bike path, as one of the ways their six-month-old nonprofit Freedom Machines is paying it forward.
The “bike therapy” session was one way several nonprofits in Warren and Washington counties are joining forces to combat addiction in young people as the region and country deal with a crisis fueled by spikes in opioid abuse. Through local forums hosted by a group called the Hometown vs. Heroin Coalition, Freedom Machines connected with the Council for Prevention in Warren and Washington counties, which has for nine years collaborated with Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery to introduce teen addicts to challenging physical activities as a part of their treatment.
And voila: Bicycle-based addiction therapy was born.
“I found that biking was a great stress relief,” Collins said. “It builds your confidence back up, it gives you a little self-worth when you’re out there, and you get that sense of accomplishment.”
Those are all goals of the Challenge Program, an effort of the Council for Prevention and Center for Recovery, which since 2008 has combined counseling and group therapy sessions with adventures for teens age 13-18. The physical challenges have other purposes, too, explained Joseph San Antonio, the Council for Prevention’s diversion program coordinator. They introduce teens to healthy activities and encourage teamwork while providing a fun space for developing trusting relationships with counselors over the four-month program.
“We’re asking them to do some really hard work,” San Antonio said of the reflection and lifestyle changes required of successful addiction treatment. “If we’re not going to engage them, then we’re not going to be able to do that work.”
Other activities the teens have participated in include bowling, miniature golf, kayaking, camping and indoor rock climbing. Participation can vary. If someone is afraid to climb, for instance, they can help secure other climbers by belaying.
“We’re not producing climbers,” San Antonio said. “It’s about using climbing intentionally to communicate.”
Teens come to the program after being referred to Glens Falls Hospital for outpatient counseling, said Susan Roberts-McManus, director of the Center for Recovery. They might be referred by the criminal justice system, school, clergy or family. They are admitted to the Challenge Program if they have an interest in outdoor adventures and have an adult willing to participate with them.
Most teens in the Center for Recovery’s programs are battling addiction to alcohol and marijuana, Roberts-McManus said, though prescription painkillers and heroin are now often problems, too.
The program is free to participants. The Council for Prevention receives $65,000 annually from the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Center for Recovery receives $68,000 and Glens Falls Hospital picks up some remaining costs, Roberts-McManus said. This year, the Challenge Program has been able to bill insurance companies for some of the adventure therapy sessions.
Mary, a foster parent in Granville who asked that her last name be withheld, had two teens go through the Challenge Program. She liked that they developed interest in positive activities there.
“Before then, all they did was hang with their buddies and do their drugs,” Mary said.
The Challenge Program has been so well received that it is being used as a model for a new OASAS-sponsored Opioid Diversion Program for adults age 18-24, scheduled to launch June 7, Roberts-McManus said. The program will be an alternative to jail for young adults arrested for drug-related crimes.
Perhaps some of them will ask Freedom Machines for bicycles. In addition to taking teens out for mountain biking on Friday, the nonprofit rehabs bikes to give to people in recovery. They’re passing on their own recovery tool, and also helping addicts who have had their driving privileges revoked to stay independent.
On Friday, they gave away their 108th bike.
To Roberts-McManus, all of the efforts show how people in Warren and Washington counties are coming together to fight an epidemic.
“Not one of us has to solve it,” she said, “but if we get together we can figure it out.”
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On – 27 May, 2017 By Claire Hughes