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Faith-based recovery program expanding to help more people stay sober

Teen Challenge Maine plans to add more beds with a focus on sobriety when re-entering society

WINTHROP, Maine — The opioid epidemic continues its grip on our state.

45 people died of overdoses in Maine last month, according to the Attorney General's office. 

While that number is down from the 54 deaths reported in January, experts say the lack of treatment centers and the pandemic has the made the problem worse. 

But there is some good news on the horizon. Teen Challenge Maine, a faith-based residential program, is expanding with a focus on helping people stay sober when re-entering society. 

For many who come through the doors of this historic brick farm house, it's their last chance to break the cycle of substance use disorder.

"A lot of these guys if you would talk to them, have been in 30 different programs and different detoxes," Keith O'Brien, the director of Teen Challenge Maine, said.

O'Brien knows that struggle first hand. He graduated from a Teen Challenge program in Massachusetts back in 2005.

The faith-based program Teen Challenge USA started in the 60s in New York City as a way for teens to get sober, but here in Maine is open to men 18 and older. Money or insurance is not required but participants must commit to 15 months of sobriety. 

As part of the residential program, men do chores and work the 400-acre property, as well as take part in bible studies and chapel services.

During the pandemic, the program, which has 16 to 20 beds, has seen an increase of people needing substance use treatment. This includes some people who have fallen back into past behaviors because of the isolation.

"Some of them have relapsed while they are at home and they are being told to stay home and regulate," O'Brien said. 

The long term recovery program, which started in Maine nearly 15 years ago, is on the brink of a new chapter. In May, a more than half million dollar renovation is expected to get underway on a historic farmhouse on the campus. The expansion, which is expected to be complete this fall, will add 26 new beds. The main building will be used for a transition program called the "River's Edge."

"For the men that graduate, they can stay here and work and have a safe place to come back to," O'Brien said. 

Right now, graduates stay in touch through video calls, camping trips, and church services. There has been an 85 percent success rate among graduates in staying sober over the past five years.

The hope is more beds and resources will help others take a first step towards sobriety. A grant and donations are helping pay for the renovation project.

Teen Challenge New England runs programs for women in Vermont and Rhode Island, but not in Maine.

Officials are looking for an affordable property or a donation of a house to start a program here in Maine to provide up to 12 beds.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol and or drug use, you can call 211 to get help. For more information on the hotline and other services from the Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the United Way, click here.  

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