Recovery Unplugged Takes On the Opioid Epidemic

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 8, 2019

Recovery Unplugged Takes On the Opioid Epidemic
  (Source:Getty Images)

The U.S. is currently facing what the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls "a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare." Opioid misuse now causes the overdose deaths of more than 130 people daily, with prescription opioid misuse alone costing the country $78.5 billion annually. The queer community has been hit especially hard.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women are at nearly three times greater risk of having opioid use disorder than heterosexual adults.

While the reasons for the epidemic are myriad, those in the trenches fighting it, like Paul Pellinger, largely blame the over-prescription of pain medication. Pellinger is co-founder and vision leader of Recovery Unplugged, a drug and alcohol treatment center founded in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2013. Recovery Unplugged specializes in using music to treat addiction, a successful approach with results "that is about four times better than the national average," according to Pellinger and confirmed by an independent study by Nova Southeastern University, who's been gathering empirical data for over three years.

Legendary songwriter and performer Richie Supa, known for his longtime creative partnership with Aerosmith, serves as Recovery Unplugged's Director of Creative Recovery, writing songs with content about the disease of addiction and substance use disorder, and structuring groups using music as the primary source of therapy.

With additional locations in Lake Worth, Florida; Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; northern Virginia and a newly opened Nashville, Tennessee facility, Recovery Unplugged helps addicts across the country with all levels of care from inpatient detox, residential, outpatient, housing, aftercare, and a strong alumni program to help ensure that sobriety lasts a lifetime.

Recovery Unplugged's trained and empathetic staff has helped thousands of clients get their lives back on track. The complexities of opioid addiction require keen evaluation and monitoring, in addition to the powerful impact of music in the recovery process.

"It's important to know that if you have somebody that has legitimate pain and they get hooked on opioids," Pellinger says, "if you take them off the opioid without a solution for that pain, it's a matter of time until they go back on opioids."

To help halt that cycle, Recovery Unplugged partners with organizations like that connect clients with primary care physicians and other medical professionals who understand the unique health care needs of those in recovery.

"When a client leaves treatment," Pellinger says, "if they still have not only chronic pain, but maybe diabetes, or hepatitis, or any of these issues that interfere with long-term recovery, we refer them to our physicians network. We want to make sure that they're being treated by someone being mindful of their addiction issues who can assist them through the continuum of care that's necessary."

(Source: Recovery Unplugged)

Healing with Music

Studies have shown that listening to music, which releases endorphins (the same brain chemical responsible for "runner's high"), can relieve chronic pain. It can also alleviate the depression and anxiety linked to it, which makes Recovery Unplugged particularly well-suited to help clients grappling with the one-two punch of chronic pain and addiction.

Music is woven through clients' entire experience at Recovery Unplugged, from the time they arrive at treatment with their favorite song playing on the sound system, to the moment they're discharged with an MP3 player loaded with recovery-themed music.

"We use music as a tool to help engage clients in treatment," says Betsi Kreshover, Recovery Unplugged outreach manager. "It breaks down their barriers, so they can react on a different emotional level and hopefully become a little bit more vulnerable. That allows them to work on deeper-rooted issues."

Outreach Manager Betsi Kreshover
Outreach Manager Betsi Kreshover  (Source: Recovery Unplugged)

Embracing Individuality

Kreshover, who is a member of the LGBTQ community and also in recovery, believes music helps Recovery Unplugged create the kind of safe space that is crucial for queer people looking to kick opioids and other substances.

"Music is a common language that all human beings can connect to," says Kreshover, "so it unites us and also connects us with the deeper parts of ourselves. Because of the environment that breeds, we've been able to create a welcoming, inclusive space."

This embracing of each client's individuality extends to housing. Unlike so many other treatment centers, Recovery Unplugged doesn't force non-binary and trans people into antiquated notions of gender. There's no need for anyone to make the traumatizing choice of whether to room in male or female housing.

"There are many people that don't identify with one gender or another, and we don't believe that they should be made to put themselves in a box," Kreshover says. "We're in the business of trying to help people regain their lives and work on healing from their addiction to opioids and other substances. I'm proud to work for a program that meets people where they are at. We let clients tell us what they need in those situations, and because of that, we create a safe environment where clients feel that they can be themselves, that they are heard and they will be treated respectfully."

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Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.