View the full K-SAT interview here.
Moms who lost children started the walk, which is now bringing hundreds to Brooks City Base
SAN ANTONIO – It’s the first of its kind in San Antonio — a walk to remember those lost to fentanyl poisoning and a rally to stop it from happening.
Now, the focus is on the leading recovery experts speaking on Saturday, intending to make big changes with education and breaking the stigma.
“Substance use disorders can happen to anyone. This is a phenomenon that happens in my family. I am well aware of that. I am one of the lucky people because I have not lost a person,” said Dr. Jennifer Potter, the vice president of research for UT Health San Antonio, and executive director of its Be Well Texas program.
Dr. Potter is a renowned expert on substance use disorder, but she also understands it on a personal level.
“Moms and parents shouldn’t be the ones having to raise awareness. Our system needs to do better. Parents who are grieving should be able to grieve,” Potter said.
Be Well Texas offers a long list of resources, regardless of a client’s ability to pay.
As the executive director and vice president of research, Potter is laser-focused on education for the community as well as those with substance use disorder.
“There is a poisoned drug supply right now in Texas. That if they’re using a substance and they don’t know where they got it from, that substance likely contains fentanyl,” she said.
Once people understand the problem, they can talk more openly about it.
“Stigma kills. We know people do not seek or ask for help because they are afraid of the consequences of asking for help, and that can end their life,” Potter said.
It’s also about knowing the options for prevention.
“The importance of fentanyl test strips, and everyone should be carrying naloxone,” Potter said.
Be Well Texas partners with 140 organizations across the state. Locally, a big one of those is the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Awareness, or SACADA.
“One pill can kill. People need to know that, and they’re taking a gamble with their life,” said SACADA CEO Abby Gilmore.
SACADA provides free and confidential support to people with substance use disorder and their families.
“Help a family walk through the process. Do they need treatment? Do they need medication? Do they need a residential place to be? Whatever the family needs in regards to opioid use, we are there to meet them there and help,” Gilmore said.
SACADA also works closely with kids.
“We go to schools, and we do presentations. We work with kids long term the whole semester, provide education to young people -- elementary, middle and high school. We work with colleges and universities,” Gilmore said.
The goal is to prevent deaths in the next generation.
Gilmore echoed Potter in emphasizing the importance of carrying naloxone, with the brand name Narcan, that can reverse an opioid overdose.
“We encourage families to purchase it or call us for free Narcan. These medications can be bought now over the counter or can be even received from our agency at no charge,” Gilmore said.
Both experts are thrilled that Saturday’s event will include naloxone training.
“At the event, we want to celebrate that we are a community that wants to do prevention. How do we prevent losing lives at all ages, at all stages?” Gilmore said
Potter said it boils down to honesty about gaps in the system and true collaboration.
“That involves schools, that involves Be Well Texas, SACADA, everyone. There are a lot of isolated programs doing good work. But if we don’t talk about the fact that there are gaps in the system, we are going to continue to lose lives. Get everybody in the same room and focus on solving the problems collectively and collaboratively,” she said.
Potter and Gilmore said Saturday’s event is a good place to start.
The Soles Walking for Souls Fentanyl Awareness Walk is Saturday, October 14, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Greenline on Brooks City Base.
There will be federal, state, and local government officials, food vendors, naloxone training, a mile walk, and a candlelight vigil.
KSAT’s Courtney Friedman will be emceeing the event.
If you or someone you love is suffering with substance use disorder, there are cost friendly and even free options:
The number for Be Well Texas is (888) 85-BEWELL or (888) 852-3955.
To get resources from SACADA, call (210) 225-4741.
To watch the full KSAT interview, click here.
SAN ANTONIO – Finding safe, sober homes for young adults in recovery can be tough, but it’s crucial to end the cycle of addiction.
Trauma started early in 18-year-old Brianna’s life.
“I was adopted at a very early age of 8. Supposedly, I was sexually abused as a little girl and taken away,” she said.
Brianna struggled with that trauma, even after being adopted into a safe home.
She then decided to leave that home and go out on her own. That’s when she fell into some dangerous situations.
“I was pretty much on the verge of being homeless, ending up in motel rooms with men and just different, very unsafe places,” she said.
Brianna’s parents found Deborah’s House, a transitional home for women recovering from different addictions.
The house, run by Corazon Ministries, is one of several transitional houses across San Antonio, but many are not certified at a national standard. That’s where UT Health San Antonio’s “Be Well Texas” program comes in. It’s a program for people seeking help with substance use and/or mental illness. The program specializes in patients struggling with opioid addiction.
The Texas Department of Health and Human Services awarded Be Well Texas $3.4 million to strengthen recovery housing for young adults aged 18-25.
“We wanted to offer a higher level of care. So there’s an organization called NARR, which is a National Association of Recovery Residences, and they set some standards of what those levels of care are,” said Richard Hamner, the clinical research program manager at UT Health San Antonio’s Be Well Texas program.
With the grant money, Be Well Texas will cover costs to operate homes that are certified as “level 2″ or “level 3″ on NARR’s four-level service scale. NARR is the most widely referenced national standard for the operation of recovery residences, working with and supporting 30 state affiliate organizations.
“Level one is like an Oxford house, which is a self-run, democratically-run home. There’s a level two and a level three, which does provide more structure. So you have a house manager, and you would even have counseling services and that type of thing on site,” Hamner explained.
“Level two means that we have a recovery support peer specialist on staff, which is me,” Deborah’s House Director Ashley O’Leary said.
The new state funding provided O’Leary with extra training and certification. She said the new certification has offered structure and support to her team, which is necessary when handling such vulnerable clients.
“A lot of them are suffering from substance use disorder or mental health concerns. They’ve completed treatment, they’re coming out of jail, or we have one right now that was currently homeless at Haven for Hope that just moved in,” O’Leary said.
Her assistant director at the house is also in the process of getting trained and certified.
“We have counselors, we have mentors, we have classes we go to, and I love them,” Brianna said. “They’re directors, but they’re friends, and they’re family, and they’re counselors all at the same time.”
Similar funding will cover training and administrative costs for more than 40 transitional houses in the state, with a total of 440 beds.
“Those life skills may include employment readiness, GED education, healthy eating, home management and budgeting. And the homes also provide other essential social support,” Hamner said.
Hamner and O’Leary both know the importance of those things. They are both in long-term recovery as well. Hamner has been to inpatient and outpatient facilities, and O’Leary lived in Deborah’s House when it was established in 2012.
“Living in a home where everyone in there is dealing with the same challenges and the same issues, and they can mentor each other and they can kind of work through those for those programs, that’s just a huge thing,” Hamner said.
With the elevated structure from the funding, the hope is that these current organizations will be able to open even more houses.
“We definitely want to be able to expand. We’re looking into some different properties as a board and trying to grow our organization,” O’Leary said.
Brianna has friends that would like to get into similar housing, but many transitional homes are at capacity. She hopes more homes will open so people across San Antonio can find the recovery and safety she has.
“Deborah’s House is a definite safe haven for me. I feel loved every time I walk in here. To know that other people care makes us care about ourselves and makes us want to keep going and have a will,” Brianna said.
The program at Deborah’s House offers free rent for a month or month and a half while clients find a job and set out goals. Once they find a job, they only have to pay $400 in rent while finishing the recovery program that lasts anywhere from nine to 18 months.
“I don’t have to worry about all the light bills. I can worry about what I need to worry about right now and get done what I can so that I can stand up again on my own,” Brianna said.
Brianna now has a job and is getting her GED. She is finally emerging from darkness to see how bright her future can be.
People ages 18 through 25 with a substance use or mental health diagnosis can qualify for this program. For more information, contact Be Well Texas at (888) 85-BeWell, (888) 852-3935.