Addiction Corrections Delaware County Drug Treatment Firefighters First Responders Games Health Health Stories Media Paramedics Philadelphia Police

First responders getting a special kind of drug addiction treatment


When Brendan Bell, previously a sergeant with a Montgomery County police division, lastly made his option to the Mirmont Treatment Middle, an addiction rehab facility in Media, he was, in his phrases, a shattered man.

Tall, broad-shouldered, and with a robust grip, Bell was “broken, I was done.”

Alcoholism was ravishing his private life as he confronted divorce and different household points. Then his addiction spilled into his public and professional life.

“I blacked out and had a DUI,” he stated. “At the time, I had 19 years in the department. That DUI saved my life.”

It additionally gave Bell and his pal and associate in restoration, Ralph Thompson, a lieutenant with the Washington D.C. hearth division, a new mission in life: serving to addicts who’re first responders, a group that specialists say are uniquely weak to varied addictions – together with, more and more, opioids.

Alcohol addiction was as soon as the preeminent purpose first responders – together with paramedics, troopers and correctional officers – would search treatment, however narcotics has caught up, stated Clare Seletsky, director of the First Responders program on the Restoration Facilities of America treatment facility in Devon.

“Just this year it’s getting equal to alcohol,” stated Seletsky, who leads a group, which incorporates Bell and Thompson, dedicated to serving to first responders. “Six, seven years ago alcohol far surpassed other drugs.”

Recognizing the challenges posed by their distinctive position in society, a quantity of addiction treatment facilities have launched specialised packages for first responders.

Along with the Restoration Facilities of America program, which launched within the spring, Mirmont has a comparable program for first responders referred to as Valor with Integrity Program for Emergency Responders, or VIPER. In accordance with Mirmont officers,  this system provides “a protected, supportive setting” for drug and alcohol restoration whereas addressing first-response points like post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD), crime scene trauma, work-related misery, and household and marital issues.

Belief, even moreso than with another teams, isn’t simply given, particularly amongst individuals whose jobs require them to danger their lives and take cost in any emergency, and whose livelihood rely upon a strict adherence to the regulation. Whereas alcoholism has a storied historical past in police and hearth departments, any illicit drug use might be grounds for dismissal, making treatment appear a career-ending gamble.

However for the staff in Devon it’s a life-saving gamble value taking, particularly now that there are treatment amenities with packages solely for first responders.

On the Devon middle, they room individually with friends or in personal rooms. Additionally they have a separate lounge and lecture rooms, 12-step conferences led by different first responders, and return-to-duty coordinators to assist them get again to work.

They’re additionally eligible for a comparatively new treatment program referred to as Eye Motion Desensitization and Reprocessing, which makes use of eye motion and different instruments to assist heal emotional traumas. EMDR has been permitted by the Division of Veterans Affairs to assist veterans with PTSD. Up to now, roughly 40 % of the primary responders on the Devon program are police, 20 % hearth, 15 % strictly emergency medical and the remaining are correctional officers or army.


Why the emphasis on holding first responders segregated from different recovering addicts? All of it comes right down to belief and understanding, particularly concerning the stresses that include the job.

“Our profession was our ticket into that room,” Bell stated.

The primary time a member of a group’s best or bravest enters a rehab facility, a widespread response is “You don’t trust any of these people,” stated Thompson. “What are they telling my boss?”

“When we were in a regular recovery community, we didn’t share what our real problems were because most people don’t understand what we do,” Thompson stated. “And if we give a response that doesn’t fit what they think we’re supposed to be like, they’re like ‘Oh my God,’ but for us (first responders) that’s normal. You don’t really open up until you’re with your peers.”

 “I’ve had doctors say, ‘I’m the doctor, I know better’ and hang up on me.’’ – Clare Seletsky, director of the First Responders program at RCA Devon

“You can’t go into a normal meeting and talk about giving CPR to a dead baby, or dealing with a guy who blew his head off with a shotgun, they give you looks,” Bell added.

There’s additionally the worry – particularly amongst police and correctional officers – that the guy addict sitting subsequent them in a common group is somebody they’ve arrested or guarded behind bars. That worry is heightened when the addiction includes medicine.

“They’re used to being in control and while they wouldn’t put it in these words, it’s terrifying” going into treatment with strangers, some who could also be individuals they’ve arrested up to now, Seletsky stated. “Did I arrest that guy before, that’s where their mental energy goes and not to ‘why am I here, what do I need to do to get better.’ They’re immediately comfortable with each other.”

Protected by the People with Incapacity Act, first responders can’t be fired for looking for out addiction treatment. “We are not mandatory reporters to departments, we don’t report anything to the departments” with out a affected person’s consent, she famous.

10082018_first_responders10082018_first_respondersPhotograph courtesy/Restoration Facilities of America

First responders get a specialised addiction treatment program on the Restoration Facilities of America treatment facility in Devon. Clare Seletsky, program director, entrance proper, says first responders now wrestle with narcotics addition as a lot as dependence on alcohol, which represented most substance abuse issues in previous years. With Seletsky are RCA staffers, clockwise from rear left: April Gucene, main therapist; Ralph Thompson, peer chief (and lively hearth lieutenant); Brendan Bell, program volunteer (and retired regulation enforcement); Rose Morera, return-to-duty coordinator (and U.S. veteran); David Lacy, peer chief (and retired regulation enforcement); and Alexis Fryer, main therapist.


For a lot of first responders hooked on opioids, the trail to addiction began with an on-the-job damage that became a continual situation that bloomed into a full-blown feverish dependence on painkillers.

“Almost 100 percent of the time, it starts with an injury,” stated Bell. “It’s usually knees, wrists, backs. Backs is a big thing with cops. You’re wearing 25 pounds of gear every day.”

First responders may endure burns or virtually lose a leg, “they usually’re placed on some kind of treatment,” stated Thompson. “Used appropriately, the treatment could possibly be very useful. They put you on for 30 days, then they minimize you off and chances are you’ll be addicted and never even know you’re addicted and also you bodily get sick. Only a few physicians go in with the strategy ‘we’re going to place you on this, however we’re additionally going to work to get you off it.’”

Trapped of their addictions, first responders use any technique, together with their badges, to acquire medicine.

“They’re either found to have been taking items from secured areas like evidence lockers,” or from drug individuals on the road, telling them they gained’t be arrested however confiscating their medicine and “instead of throwing it in the sewer, putting it in their pockets,” Seletsky stated

Like all addict,  first responders will use no matter they need to help their addiction and what cops, firefighters and paramedics have, she stated, “is their uniform and that unfortunately can be used.”


Treatment on the Devon middle can final from seven days to detox to 30 days, relying on medical want. The toughest half of the journey is the return to obligation and out of doors life.

Some docs, for instance, will decline to heed Seletsky’s recommendation relating to modifying ache medicine regimens for her opioid-addicted shoppers. “I’ve had docs say, ‘I’m the physician, I do know higher’ and cling up on me,’’ Seletsky stated.

Then, there are commanders who say, “All you need to do is go to church and rip up that piece of paper with the aftercare (plan) we spent 30 days putting together.”

Others, nevertheless, have been extra supportive. The Devon workforce stated they’ve seen or heard of commanders personally driving addicted officers to treatment, and fellow officers donating sick time so treatment can proceed.

It’s essential that commanding officers perceive the character of addiction and the necessity to scale back, if not remove, an addicted first responder’s publicity to medicine. It might require a switch from a vice or drug unit, for instance.

However in the long run, it should depend upon the primary responder and his or her day by day battle with addiction.

“It’s a lifelong recovery,” stated Bell. “I bought in and I bought in really hard.”

For Thompson, it means avoiding triggers together with “line-of-duty-death funerals. I still don’t go to them today. From the time we arrived at 6 in the morning, we drank.”

But some triggers can solely be managed.

“When you are out on the street you can’t avoid it,” stated Thompson. “Once I lastly first went again on the road, there was a man, first run out, I don’t know what his blood alcohol degree was, however I’m fairly positive I’ve seemed like this man on the bus bench, the odor of alcohol was ‘Oh my god.’

“I used to be recent out of my restoration, 7:30 within the morning, he’s on the bench and the bottle continues to be laying there and I’m like, ‘Thank god.’

It was a stern actuality, he stated.

“Thank god I don’t need to be that individual anymore.”