Much attention has been spent on treating adults with opioid addiction. But it’s not always the same with teens.
That’s why Norfolk-based nonprofit The Up Center has created a new program geared toward helping adolescents addicted to opioids, using a treatment method not currently available in Hampton Roads.
Thanks to a federal grant, the center will be able to roughly double its capacity for treating young people with substance use issues.
The nearly $700,000 grant was one of 13 awarded by the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs in the Eastern District of Virginia this month, totaling more than $14 million.
The Up Center’s program, which is called New Visions, has been in motion for a while, said program operations director Angela Bell.
Before developing it, center officials spent 18 months consulting with hospital officials, mental health professionals, attorneys, judges and others to determine what’s needed in the region.
“The need we saw is there was a lack of services for substance use disorder that were either free or at a reduced cost,” Bell said. “There’s a very small number of folks providing active recovery services. The Up Center is able to fill that gap.”
The Up Center started as an orphanage under a different name over a century ago and has evolved through mergers. It has more than seven offices in Hampton Roads and an annual budget of over $15 million, according to its website.
Already the nonprofit provides some outpatient and peer recovery services for about 70 individuals and families who struggle with substance abuse.
The new program will focus specifically on adolescents and opioid use. The grant will allow for at least 70 more patients but the center is hoping to meet the needs of more, said Richelle Burney, substance use disorder program manager.
The center will use what’s known as the Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach, a psychosocial treatment that focuses on issues such as anger management, problem solving and relapse prevention. Clinicians can tailor the treatment for each individual.
“We’re focused on increasing communication, providing coping mechanisms, increasing social skills and interactions within the community,” Burney said.
The treatment aims to better engage youth in their community and help them develop a lifestyle that’s more rewarding without drugs, according to a 2018 study published by the National Institutes of Health.
In the study, researchers followed more than 1,700 adolescents who’d received such treatment. The authors saw teens with both opioid and other drug disorders decrease their substance use significantly, though the ones with opioid problems did not fare as well.
During the past decade, use of non-heroin opioids by high school students has almost doubled, the study noted. And certain treatments are available and accepted among adults, but haven’t been as studied in the youth population.
Burney said The Up Center plans to focus on underserved communities where many families do not have insurance, including Norfolk and Portsmouth.
The grant will allow officials to hire two full-time clinicians, a supervisor and a family support partner, and expand its peer recovery program, which connects people in crisis with others who have gone through the same issues. The center will help people seek employment if they need it, as well.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought these issues to the forefront in Hampton Roads, Burney said.
“We generally are seeing that folks in long-term recovery are relapsing, or overdosing, or there are increased suicide risks because of COVID,” she said.
Adolescents often haven’t yet developed resiliency skills, she added, which makes addiction that much harder to beat.
However, the pandemic has jumpstarted more telehealth treatment, Burney said, which is a good way to remove certain barriers to getting help such as transportation.
With the federal grant in hand, the nonprofit has started officially forming New Visions and hopes to serve more families soon.
Those in need of Up Center services can reach the intake coordinator at 757-965-8622.