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The demand for sober-living residences as a path to addiction recovery


2020 marked the most drug overdose deaths on record. One thing that can save lives are sober living homes that give people spaces and tools to start a life of recovery, but these homes aren't always welcomed by the community at large. West Virginia Public Broadcasting's June Leffler has more from a town that's seen an influx in addiction services and a resulting backlash.

JUNE LEFFLER, BYLINE: Forty-five-year-old Jimmy Braswell (ph) came to the town of Parkersburg, W.Va., to enter a recovery program. His parole officer dropped him off.

JIMMY BRASWELL: But that wasn't my decision. My PO decided that Parkersburg would be a better spot for me, and I'm grateful for it.

LEFFLER: Braswell had been through 10 years of using drugs and getting locked up for it. He overdosed in Charleston earlier this year. Moving Braswell 80 miles away from everything he knew in Charleston worked out for the best.

BRASWELL: If I was to go back to the streets of Charleston, where those problems and those people that I know exist, then it would just never would have worked.

LEFFLER: Braswell has been living in a sober living residence called the Mid-Ohio Valley Fellowship Home since May. There, he and more than 30 other men and women are on a path to recovery. Patrice Pooler runs the Fellowship Home.

PATRICE POOLER: And the cool thing is to see that completely turn around. They all just kind of connect with each other and figure out how to stay sober.

LEFFLER: Braswell and the other clients start a 12-step program and are expected to get a job in town. Some take prescribed drugs to beat their cravings for opioids. They stay in the home for six months. But at what cost, asks Sharon Kuhl. She has lived in Parkersburg all her life and sits on the local city council.

SHARON KUHL: In the beginning, we needed a rehab center. Do we need eight? No.

LEFFLER: Kuhl says her town has been inundated. There's at least 12 recovery homes serving 180 clients. Kuhl worries these homes are bringing vulnerable people to Parkersburg who may struggle to get back on their feet.

KUHL: If they come and they decide, after one or two days, they want to leave, they kick them out. They're on the streets, nowhere to go if they're not from around here. Then they become homeless. Then they become Parkersburg's problem.

LEFFLER: Homelessness is an issue in most West Virginia towns, but there's no way to tell how much people leaving recovery homes might be adding to it. Kuhl's fellow council members echoed her concerns. This summer, the city of Parkersburg issued a ban on any new home from opening up for at least a year. They're hoping West Virginia lawmakers will issue more regulations soon. Pooler at the Fellowship Home says the moratorium perpetuates stigma.

POOLER: There's still components of us versus them instead of recognizing that it's we. You know, it's our sons and daughters.

LEFFLER: But Pooler supports regulation. The Fellowship Home is completing their certification with the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences. The organization outlines best practices to follow to keep neighbors happy and clients safe. Even if Parkersburg has more recovery homes than it did just a few years ago, recovery advocates say there are still not enough. Steve Ball runs the men's program at Fellowship Home. He always has a wait list.

STEVE BALL: You got so many people wanting beds, and, I mean, literally we have people showing up on our doorstep asking for beds.

LEFFLER: Fellowship Home supports making their industry more accountable, but that will take time. In the meantime, people who need care now might not be able to get it. For NPR News, I'm June Leffler in Parkersburg, W.Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOHEAD'S "DAYDREAMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

June Leffler