DERRY — Only four weeks ago, Amanda Wheeler was battling a serious heroin addiction and didn’t know what to do.
The 27-year-old mother of two young sons, 3 and 8, realized she had a problem that could eventually kill her.
“I didn’t know where to go to get help,” she said.
But the Derry mother happened to speak to another woman who told her she had just come from a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new substance abuse recovery center not far from Wheeler’s own home.
It was the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery Center in Derry, based at the longtime home of the Derry Friendship Center. The Friendship Center has helped people battling alcohol and drug abuse for 35 years.
Last month, the two organizations joined forces at the Railroad Avenue location to join their efforts to serve those in need.
Representatives from the two groups gathered there Thursday for a round-table discussion with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to discuss the importance of increasing funding for substance abuse recovery services.
The discussion came as state and federal officials consider how to cope with an opioid epidemic in the Granite State that led to 439 drug-related deaths last year, according to the New Hampshire medical examiner’s office. That figure is projected to rise to at least 482 by this year’s end.
“One of the things I have been working on is getting some additional resources to help fight this epidemic,” Shaheen said. “We are continuing that fight in Washington.”
Shaheen said she was surprised to learn that while detoxification and treatment centers receive government funding, recovery centers do not.
They must largely rely on fundraisers and donations to support their operations, according to Kelly Riley, program manager for the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery centers in Derry and Manchester. Seven centers are expected to be in operation by the end of the year.
While a treatment center offers medical help to addicts, recovery facilities tend to provide services such as counseling and support groups.
Shaheen took a brief tour of the center before participating in the nine-member panel discussion. The panelists included recovering addicts such as Brian Mooney, a military veteran who now counsels others.
Mooney said while treatment can last up to 90 days, recovery from substance abuse and learning how to live a normal life without drugs is an ongoing process.
“It’s a community issue, it’s a family issue, it’s a public issue,” Shaheen said of addiction. “As you know, to address substance misuse takes a whole community.”
Shaheen said she and fellow U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., fought for passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in Washington to provide more funding to battle the opioid crisis.
Five addicts in recovery, including Wheeler, told Shaheen how the new center is helping to save their lives. Wheeler told of how staff members Paula Heard and Karla Gallagher immediately took her into their care.
“They just grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let go — those two women make me smile every day and keep me sober,” she said. “Right now, this is what I need. I will die if I go back out.”
Heard herself is a recovering addict.
“It’s a second home,” she said of the center. “For me, it’s a blessing to come home.”
Riley, who lost her only son to an overdose, said the center would like to do more to help addicts but cannot because of limited funding. There’s one program that will end next month because there just is not enough money to keep it going, the program manager said.
It means more people will have fewer resources to help battle with addiction.
“It’s an epidemic,” she said. “People are dying.”
Cindy Boutin, 45, is also a recovering addict. The program is helping to keep her out of jail.
The Manchester mother told Shaheen it’s crucial the center receive more financial assistance.
“Staying clean is the hard part,” she said. “It really is important to get funding for this program.”