Date: June 21, 2023
By Devin Bates
WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – When it comes to addiction, understanding the struggles of someone starting their path to recovery can be the difference between progress and sliding back into the cycle. For the LGBTQ+ community, addiction is more prevalent, but treatment catered to their unique experiences isn’t as common.
Lisa Blanchard, chief clinical officer for Spectrum Health Systems, has helped lead a growing effort at the New England Recovery Center to get to the root of addiction in the LGBTQ+ community.
On Wednesday, she was busy helping out with the center’s Pride festival, but the work goes well beyond displays of support during Pride Month.
“We need to be sure as an addiction treatment provider that we are not just welcoming and open, but that we’re much more gender-affirming in the care that we provide,” Blanchard said.
Several years ago, the New England Recovery Center created a committee initially meant to explore the unique barriers women face on the road to recovery, but it’s since expanded to cover all gender identities and orientations. It’s now called the Gender Responsiveness Committee.
“Maybe their family of origin wasn’t supportive, maybe their community wasn’t supportive, maybe they just had a difficult time developing in that area and that might have lead to some of the self-medicating of substance use,” Blanchard said. “So now, they have the internalized stigma of being a person with a substance use disorder.”
All staff at Spectrum Health Systems and the New England Recovery Center undergo training to better understand the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery.
For Kane Grey, a person in recovery who was helped by Spectrum Health, the search for acceptance drove him out of his home in Lancaster to a series of dangerous living situations across the country, sinking deeper into alcoholism and drugs and feeling like he couldn’t fit in anywhere.
“My story came to jails, institutions and deaths,” Grey said. “I overdosed in Ohio, I was dead on the floor for 30 minutes and they hit me six times with Narcan and brought me back.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 10% of addiction treatment programs use targeted strategies to reach the LGBTQ+ community, but 20% to 30% percent of LGBTQ+ people misuse substances, compared to just 9% of the general population.
Grey had tried rehab before, but growth came when he received support from LGBTQ+ peers. It’s something Ramon Medina, Spectrum Health’s residential program director, has noticed as a powerful tool.
“At times, what we do is kind of bridge those that have been in past recovery, have them meet and greet and share their experience so they understand the environment is always becoming more and more welcoming for them,” Medina said.
Now, Grey is working to become a peer mentor himself, because helping others has become his life’s purpose – a way to pay it forward.
“Had I not gotten that, I wouldn’t be here, I know that,” Grey said. “Being treated like a human, like every other human and being seen for who I am and who I’m not, and it’s okay, the support, I never could have imagined this type of support but it is vital. Life and death for someone in my shoes.”
For more information on Spectrum Health System’s services, visit their website.