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Group seeks to help addicts

Families for Change working to soften view, temper policies

A recently formed local group that includes parents of people who’ve lost their lives to addiction seeks to soften society’s view of addicts, temper policies that complicate recovery and expand the duration and scope of drug and alcohol treatment.

“One of the first targets is stigma and shame in the community,” said Families United for Change founder Marianne Sinisi, whose son, Shawn, died of a heroin overdose last year.

Addicts are coming out of jail with nothing — no job, no car, no license, no money and nowhere to live, but with a criminal record, child support payments to make and costs and fines to pay, Sinisi said.

“We kind of put them in a hole that it’s hard to get back out of,” said John Gray, pastor of Hope Community Church and director of The Foundry, a transitional house where recovering addicts can go to get their lives back together.

It would help if the courts devised a program of debt forgiveness for addicts that are keeping to a recovery program, and it would help if more employers were willing to hire recovering addicts, and it would help if more churches embraced recovering addicts and their families, according to Gray and Sinisi.

“We know it’s risky and hard,” Sinisi said of such a commitment from employers. “(But) kindness helps your heart heal.”

The typical treatment is a month or a month and a half — not nearly enough, according to Gray.

What’s needed is a year or more, said Greg Eilenberger, a group member, recovered meth addict and father of a son who was killed in a crash caused by a driver under the influence of prescription drugs.

The group has been setting up meetings with local lawmakers in hopes they’ll consider legislation to change what the group considers to be counterproductive policies governing the legal system and the insurance industry, which largely dictate the duration of recovery programs.

The group has been trying to come to grips with help that is already available, to avoid duplication of effort, Gray said.

“(For addicts), everything’s like a conglomeration of tape rolled up,” Gray said. “It’s hard to unravel.”

He’s not advocating “a free ride,” he said. “(But) we’re trying to figure out a way to loosen some of that tape.”

The group is meeting at

7 p.m. today in the lower level of Hope Community Church, 1520 11th St., Altoona. The phone number is 934-8067.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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