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State drug and alcohol officials vow to help after tour of treatment facilities in Poconos

State and local officials gathered at Justin's House as part of the DDAP's engagement tour.
Haley O'Brien
From left to right: Kenneth Ramirez, Executive Director of Justin's House, Kathleen Molesi, Dr. Latika Davis-Jones, DDAP Secretary, Amanda Ramirez, State Rep. Maureen Madden and Jamie Drake, Executive Director of the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission.

Representatives from the Pa. Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) made stops in Monroe County Tuesday to hear from stakeholders as part of a statewide engagement tour.

The point of the tour is to see what each county is doing to address the opioid and overdose epidemic, said DDAP Secretary Dr. Latika Davis-Jones.

“We’re trying to find out ... what we can do to improve our overall drug and alcohol system to make healthy outcomes for individuals that are impacted by substance abuse," she said.

Justin’s House in Tobyhanna Township is the first licensed recovery house (2021) in the state.

“I commend you,” said Davis-Jones. “That’s what we want to ensure - high quality, safe spaces.”

Kenneth Ramirez, Executive Director and Co-Owner of Justin’s House, explains how the DDAP Recovery House regulations provide standards for licensure.

“We’re not allowed to handle clients funds, their money, take their food stamps,” he said. “We maintain our records and we provide a high standard of care.”

Recovery houses do not have to be licensed, but they are preferred by the courts when making a residential recommendation. The law requires that state or state-funded agencies must only refer people in treatment to licensed facilities. Licensed recovery houses can also receive state and federal funding and contract with their Single County Authority for services.

Support for Justin’s House

Formerly We Have a Choice Recovery House, Justin’s House honors Ramirez’s brother-in-law, who died of a fentanyl overdose.

“This is a picture of me two weeks before my clean date,” Ramirez said, referring to his shirt. “I was homeless, I was a thief, I was a criminal, I was everything that recovery isn’t.

“I’m a treatment administrator. I’m a director at another facility, but I’m also a peer and a person in long-term recovery. I almost died out there, so I don’t play with addiction because it’s serious. I still go to meetings because I have to. Not because I want to, but I show up because I know what would happen if I stop going. And I don’t ever want to be this guy again.”

Ramirez, his wife and his mother-in-law provide support services, and often rides, to the men who stay there, including I-an Mayes.

“I’ve actually come a long way,” Mayes said. “Last year, I got locked up for fighting.”

He moved into Justin’s House following his release in December and managed to finish his high school education and get a job. However, it’s hard for him to get there.

“That’s my worry, being late because of how the bus moves,” he said.

The house has five empty beds right now because of the lack of transportation to and from the house on Prospect Street in Tobyhanna Township.

“We really shouldn’t have empty beds as a licensed facility, and not only that, but we’re the only one in the county, which is concerning.” he said. “Maybe we could get a bus stop in front of this house or on this block, so they don’t have to walk two miles.”

State Rep. Maureen Madden said she is working on a solution.

“Folks from this house have walked to my office … about two miles … for services,” she said.

“We understand the unique circumstances that each county has to face,” Davis-Jones said. “You have all of our commitment to make sure this place is successful.”

Stroudsburg Stop

Before visiting Justin's House, officials joined Shirley Carver at Pyramid Healthcare's Outpatient Treatment Center in Stroudsburg, for a drum-circle session.

A person in drug or alcohol use treatment can attend the drum circle for music therapy.

“The point of drumming together is to connect people and get yourself out of your mind,” Carver said. “You’re in the process of not worrying about what the outcome is and just feeling what’s going on right now and being mindful.”

Carver says it can reduce a person’s anxiety or depression instantly and can help them gain musical coping skills for the future.

“A lot of the times it’s calming the anxiety, being able to tap on your leg,” she said. “Our body wants to follow the rhythm.”

“A lot of people don’t understand what goes on with treatment facilities, and there’s a lot of negative stigma about it,” Carver said. “So the more support we get from outside resources, the better.”

The two stops in Monroe County were part of Phase 2 of the DDAP's engagement tour. The state released the findings from Phase 1, which came from roundtable discussions in 2023.

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org