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Pike County simulation shines a light on the struggles of recovery

Chris Sorrentino (left), case management supervisor with the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission, was one of more than 20 employees who ran the the recovery simulation on Wednesday. Participants took on the roles of people in the early stages of addiction recovery, which the drug and alcohol agency said helps combat stigma.
Tom Riese
Chris Sorrentino (left) is a case management supervisor with the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission. He was one of more than 20 employees who ran the the recovery simulation on Aug. 16.

Navigating a maze of meetings and court-mandated appointments can be tough for someone in the early stages of addiction recovery, say treatment specialists. A county agency aims to educate people about those struggles through immersive events.

Last week, the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission hosted a simulation that gave participants new names, back stories and fake money to live out an accelerated month-long schedule in about one hour. Each person took on the identity of someone in treatment and tied up in the legal system.

About 30 people – many of whom were county probation officers and children and youth employees – set out to fulfill requirements at tables that lined the conference room at the Pike County Training Center.

Several participants had to start out without state ID, a job or stable housing. They had to juggle the costs of transportation, counseling and medication with a limited or nonexistent budget.

Organizers said it was meant to be a chaotic experience.

Commission Executive Director Jamie Drake, who has worked in addiction treatment for over 30 years, said the exercise challenges the stigma associated with recovery.

Dropping people into a simulation offers a glimpse at what Drake's clients have experienced, “to look at the way that our folks are treated and the multiple demands that are placed on them when they’re first trying to get clean – it’s very difficult in itself.”

It’s the sixth time her department hosted the event, but it’s a first for Pike County. Modeled on an immersive poverty simulation, Drake said the role-playing activity is especially useful for human services employees, who have regular contact with people in treatment for substance use disorders.

An early Carbon-Monroe-Pike simulation included East Stroudsburg University seniors looking to enter human services roles after graduation. The commission has also tried the exercise with law enforcement and mental health providers, Drake said.

Lindsay Hutnick, treatment specialist in Carbon County, was a lead coordinator of the event. At the end of the hour, she asked participants for feedback. A few shared that they were overwhelmed.

"Some people try to set you up for failure," one said.

Drake wants to see the recovery simulation used in more settings. Her office has trained drug departments across Pa. and other agencies in Maryland. She hopes events like these dissolve stereotypes and remove barriers to recovery.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.