There’s a new type of program that allows substance abusers to receive treatment at the comfort and privacy of their homes. The innovative addiction recovery program developed by Aware Recovery Care is providing struggling addicts with a third — or fourth — chance at sobriety; and it seems to be working better than traditional inpatient and outpatient drug rehabilitation programs.
Emily Gendreau, 18, knew she had to quit drugs or quit living. Her addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers had taken control of her life. She had been arrested, expelled from school, and sent away to a residential rehab program for 30 days by the time she was a senior in high school.
“It was my entire life. It was all I did. I woke up in the morning looking for anything."
In 2016, Emily started using prescription painkillers, left over from a previous surgery. She was hurting from a tough break up and the loss of a family member. Her drug use quickly progressed to heroin. Over time, she lost her boyfriend, friends, and all her money. She even found herself stealing money from loved ones.
“I didn’t know I hit rock bottom until I got caught using in school,” Emily says.
While searching her bag one day, her principal looked at her and said, ‘This is heroin.’ It was the first time Emily had been confronted with her drug use.
"That’s when I knew I needed help,” she told NBC News.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Emily was admitted to Arms Acers rehab facility in upstate New York for a six-day detox, followed by an 89-day stay at Newport Academy, a Bethlehem, Connecticut, treatment center that specializes in teen addiction.
But Emily, like so many other addicts, was apprehensive about returning home and life after rehab in general, where she would no longer be sheltered from triggers like drug-using ‘friends’ or parties. That’s when she turned to Aware.
Aware Recovery Care is a yearlong, Connecticut-based in-home rehabilitation program that provides patients with around-the-clock treatment, including a nurse coach, addiction psychiatrist, primary care doctor, family therapist, case manager, peer support, and 12-step meetings — the Aware Recovery Care Collaborative Care Model. Participants receive medication-assisted treatment, urine screening, and GPS tracking, if they so choose. The program has recently expanded to New Hampshire.
“Addiction doesn’t just disappear because the symptoms are under control," says Dr. Ellen Lockard Edens, assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Addiction Psychiatry Residency at Yale University School of Medicine. "It is a chronic illness. So when people are prematurely discharged from their residential rehab program and return home, they go back into their old environment and start using again.”
Home rehab allows addicts to recover in their most familiar environment.
"Someone can come into the home, identify the pitfalls that are unique to your situation, and help you problem solve on a local level," says Edens.
According to data from the Anthem Insurance Health Company the new, long-term model seems to be working. Of patients who start the Aware program, 64 percent go on to complete it and 72 percent report remaining in treatment or complete abstinence, thereafter. This is in contrast to the 35 percent success rate for traditional 30-day outpatient rehabilitation programs without follow-up care.
As a result, in October 2015 Anthem Health Insurance agreed to expand its coverage to cover the one-year cost for those who qualify. The out-of-pocket cost is $38,000 a year — which may sound expensive — but is equivalent to just one month of inpatient treatment.
“I learned something at recovery named riding the wave," Emily told NBC News. "That means I notice the urges of taking drugs or doing alcohol, I allow myself to have the craving, then I just let it go."
Aware even facilitated a meeting with the school guidance counselor and her principal.
"We talked about making small changes that would help me avoid triggers, like going to the nurse’s office instead of using the school bathrooms. They really helped me to express what I needed from the school,” she said.
Now, Emily wants to do more than just ride the wave: She wants to help others kick their drug habit altogether by becoming a drug addiction counselor in the future.
“I've always wanted to help teenagers and adolescents that were in need. Once I fought with my own addiction, I realized that I can be a huge help to kids in high school trying to get sober.”
Shamard Charles, M.D.
Dr. Shamard Charles is a physician-journalist for NBC News and Today, reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.
Lauren Dunn is a producer with the NBC News medical unit in New York.