Responding to the need to combat the opioid crisis in Springfield, the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) recently awarded Gándara Center $400,000 in funding to open a recovery support center in the city’s downtown. It will open in the late summer or the beginning of fall.

The facility, to be housed at 373 Worthington Street, will be designed after the peer recovery support centers our agency operates in Holyoke, Brockton, Plymouth, and Hyannis. “Our center in Springfield, like our others, will welcome all people in recovery from substance use and those affected by substance use,” said Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou. “All paths to recovery will be accepted.”

The news comes on the heels of new data from the DPH showing that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses nearly doubled in Springfield last year, from 56 in  2017 to 108, even though overdose deaths decreased by one percent statewide.

The number of recovery support centers are growing rapidly in Massachusetts, representing a shift from isolated treatment facilities to peer-based support services. Gándara Center is one of eight organizations receiving a total of $3.5 million to open recovery support centers in Springfield, Lowell, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Northbridge, Walpole, Pittsfield, and Fall River.

“Recovery support services are integral to our statewide opioid response strategy,” said DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel. “The addition of these eight DPH-funded centers is a step forward in establishing a broad network of culturally welcoming places for people seeking support for recovery from alcohol and substance use.”

State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that such peer-to-peer centers offer “nonjudemental support” and can play a vital rehab role, enabling consumers to join a recovery community and helping fill in the gaps left by other treatment professionals, such as education and training on financial management, parenting, stress management, and CORI assistance. “Recovery support centers are an important piece of a continuum to promote long-term recovery while complementing substance-use and alcohol treatment and mutual-support groups,” said Sudders.

The services at Gándara’s recovery support center in Springfield will be free and provide peer-to-peer support—including peer-facilitated support— as well as relapse prevention and tobacco cessation support groups, social events, access to computers for job readiness/job search activities, and advocacy and recovery coaching. Support will also include peer governance in which participants form advisory boards and use community meetings to create policies such as code of ethics and code of conduct and determine program activities such as peer support groups and participation in health fairs, community events and celebrations/holidays. Volunteer opportunities will be available for members who are committed to their recovery and actively participate in the center.

Participants at the new center must be 18 years of age or older. Parents will be able to bring adolescents or children to the center if they follow its policy related to supervision and attendance. Members who come under the influence of substances or alcohol will be given a choice to go for treatment or they will be asked to leave and come back when they are not under the influence.

East-Trou said that peer support has always been an important part of Gándara Center’s culture of recovery “For decades we have hired staff with lived experience, including recovery coaches, to support those in early recovery,” he said. “Recovery coaching has proven to be an effective tool in helping people continue their recovery process.”