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'We’re fighting a battle' -- new Millinocket recovery center battles substance abuse, COVID-19 challenges

Just a month and a day after opening its doors, Pir2Peer in Millinocket had to close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Most Mainers would likely agree that the coronavirus pandemic swept in quickly, making for sudden changes to life and work. Michelle Anderson is one of those people -- and something that made stay-at-home orders even harder for her was her history with substance abuse. 

"The moment I had no options and I had to stay in my house, everything about prison came back to me," Anderson expressed to NEWS CENTER Maine via video call. She went to prison about 30 years ago after an addiction to drugs led to related-crimes -- burglaries and shoplifting, as a means to support that habit.

Anderson says she was surprised the past couple of months at how even after being clean for decades, those tendencies never really go away.

"I didn’t realize that it was still that much a part of me," Anderson said. "Then, I started to think about all of the people coming here and all of the people that need to come here, (and) I panicked."

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"Here" is the Pir2Peer recovery center in Millinocket, an organization that Michelle and two other women in recovery started at the beginning of this year. Just a month and a day after opening their doors though, they had to close because of COVID-19

It was a hit to their organization -- and to their growing client base -- that took a toll.

"It was like, 'Wow, what do we do?'" Ginger Collins, the president of Pir2Peer, told NEWS CENTER Maine.

RELATED: Three women with addiction-prone pasts open Millinocket recovery center

These women have managed tough times before, so they adjusted, learning how to use a program to create an online chat room for people struggling with addiction, available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week -- and always monitored by one of them. 

"We decided that we wanted to be there, just like we are here for people who just want to drop in and talk -- because as long as you’re talking, you can’t get drunk, and you can’t use," Anderson, the CEO of Pir2Peer, explained.

"We certainly could not just fold up," Collins noted. "If we took recovery away, or any attachment to it or availability, we would have lost everything we had gained."

They've found that the online platform has actually been a really useful tool, helping people living in remote areas and even out of state to access their services -- in a time when experts say it's needed now more than ever. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates that 45 percent of U.S. adults say their mental health has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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"We find that people in general feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed now than they did before the pandemic," David Prescott, a clinical psychologist at Northern Light Acadia Hospital, said. He added that those who tend to be more impacted, according to research so far, are people with lower income, those with strict shelter-in-place orders, and women.

Prescott also says that experts are expecting that the impact of COVID-19 on mental health will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

"We’re waiting for this wave of mental health, depression, anxiety, substance use to start to increase," Prescott expressed.

Anderson and Collins say they're working alongside other recovery organizations in the state to make sure people struggling can get the help they need. To these women, business is not a competition -- what's important is making sure those dealing with substance abuse don't have to walk that road alone.

"Your urges, the disease of alcoholism and substance use disorder -- it doesn’t take a nap," Anderson said.

"We’re fighting a battle -- a serious battle. I don’t know if we’re gaining, but we’re fighting," Collins expressed.

Pir2Peer reopened its doors a couple of weeks ago (taking social distancing precautions) and is now officially a certified 501(c)(3), so Anderson and Collins are hoping to start to gain traction again with the public. They are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and say they will continue to offer online support after seeing how useful it has been for clients. 

To learn more about Pir2Peer, click here

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