It was a quick spiral down. Alex Elswick’s addiction began with a prescription to opioids following surgery at age 18. Over the next five years, his addiction took him to jail, to numerous treatment centers, to being homeless in four different cities, and eventually, to sleeping under a bridge in Dayton, Ohio and heroin use.
Shelley Elswick couldn’t find useful information to help her son. She tried to get naloxone, but, at the time, was unable to buy individual doses. She was told could only buy it by the case. She encountered barriers each time she tried to access treatment for her son’s addiction. Frustrated by the lack of resources, Shelley decided to act. In partnership with a professor in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, Amanda Fallin-Bennett, she began writing grants to purchase naloxone in bulk and to distribute the lifesaving drug in her local community.
They started giving talks around Kentucky to raise awareness and combat stigma. They held a recovery rally to garner support and provide resources. They even partnered with the City of Lexington to create a treatment locator service. “We were all over the place and needed to organize and focus our efforts,” Elswick says.
About that time the law changed, making it easier to access naloxone. Elswick travelled to Rhode Island and Connecticut where she saw a model that was working. “They had the same core values and it was the same conclusions, so we thought, ‘This is us!’”
Voices of Hope was started in 2015 with a focus on the peer-delivered recovery support services. Elswick initially set up telephone recovery support in her kitchen. In just over two years, the telephone recovery support program has grown to service more than 1,300 Kentuckians in recovery by partnering with treatment centers, drug courts, and detention centers to provide meaningful, long term recovery support.
After securing funding and a dedicated space, Voices of Hope began a recovery coaching program. Currently, it provides recovery coaches to area hospitals, jails, and the public at-large, and will soon offer them remotely using video conferences. It also serves women in prison and has an internship program to provide people in early recovery with job experience. Two of those interns are now full-time employees with the organization.
Additionally, it hosts Overdose Awareness Day to honor those lost and give parents and friends a place to grieve. This year, over 1,000 people participated along with 135 volunteers who made the event happen.
The center itself offers social activities, provides quarterly naloxone trainings, and hosts expungement fairs. To date, 1,400 individuals have visited the center. It’s located inside a professional office building. They offer free yoga classes, which are a huge hit. “We wanted to create a warm and friendly environment that was elevated and respectful and not hidden away in a dark corner,” Elswick explains. It also features meetings that embrace all pathways of recovery, including traditional and secular 12 step meetings and SMART recovery meetings.
Voices of Hope now serves as the hub for recovery support within the Bluegrass recovery community. And what about Alex, the young man whose addiction set it all in motion? His mom can’t help hiding her pride when she says, “He completed his master’s degree in family science and is now working on his PhD.” Talk about a voice of hope.
Voices of Hope was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.