All things considered, Strafford County is an unremarkable corner of New Hampshire.
This is no criticism of the region and those who call it home. Quite the contrary: From the wooded tranquility of Barrington to the bustle of Durham’s campus life, Strafford is full of the sort of hometown warmth that can quickly charm any tourist into believing that they’ve lived there all of their lives.
It’s a county that’s chock full of ‘Anytown USAs,’ and for this very reason it’s a place where the nation’s opioid epidemic is alive and well.
No zip code in America is immune to the crisis, but rural communities like Strafford that struggle with bleak job prospects and high rates of poverty are fertile ground for the behaviors that can lead to substance misuse. In short, any place where tomorrow may not be any better than today is where this crisis lives.
While rediscovering hope is the driving force behind recovery, access to affordable treatment is what makes all of the work possible — and few know this better than Goodwin Board Member Whitney Galeucia.
The search for access
Whitney moved to Rochester in the summer of 2014 and made her way to local a medication assisted treatment program for those coping with substance misuse, “It was great and I really benefited from being there,” she remarked. “But when it got to the point to start the outpatient program, it was going to cost me $30 per visit three times a week. Add to that the $130 fee every time I needed to see a provider and it just wasn’t affordable.”
Whitney eventually found herself working with a Goodwin staff member who helped her to sign up for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (NHHPP), the state’s Medicaid Expansion effort under the Affordable Care Act.
“The people at Goodwin helped me to go over my finances, fill out all of the paperwork, get enrolled in the NHHP, and finally afford the treatment I needed for my recovery,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea that any of this was available to me. I’d never been on any kind of state insurance before … without help from Goodwin, I would have felt too overwhelmed and given up on the whole thing.”
Giving voice to the epidemic
That was all back in 2014, today Whitney is well on the way to recovery.
She’s down to 6 milligrams of the opioid treatment Suboxone after starting out on 16 milligrams, with the goal of being completely off the drug by the end of this year. She’s steadily working at a job that she loves, paying off her student loans, and serves as a member on Goodwin’s Board of Directors.
As a Goodwin patient recovering from substance misuse, Whitney views her role on the board as a way to bring focus to the opioid crisis that so many Granite Staters are working to overcome, “A big part of being in recovery is learning how to use your voice,” she said. Going on to say that she saw her role on the board as “a chance to be a voice for the recovery community.”
It was plain to see that Whitney was a woman on a mission, someone determined to stare down her demons and chart a brand new pathway forward on her own terms. But amid all of the optimism, she revealed that there was one overarching fear that hung over her head every step of the way: whether or not the NHHPP was going to continue to be there for her.
When scariest thing about recovery isn’t recovery
With the looming possibility of huge cuts to NHHPP funding, working class Americans like Whitney who are struggling with recovery from opioid misuse can easily find themselves without access to everything from mental health services to inpatient treatment programs. Indeed, with so many former opioid users living on the fringes of society, a sudden loss of affordable health coverage carries huge health risks to those who are currently in treatment — a reality that Whitney is already beginning to plan for.
“I watch the news and find myself shaking from fear,” she revealed. “I have so much on the line here, and while I trust God and his plan for my life, all of these fears are still there. I have a job that I adore, but there’s no way I would be able to afford my recovery and still have money to put food on the table without Medicaid. It’s a huge part of why I’m aiming to be off Suboxone by the end of the year. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Facing the trials of substance recovery is difficult enough on its own, but the idea of someone hurrying along the pace of that process for fear of losing health insurance coverage was staggering. Though she expressed no concern for herself, she noted that the added stress of losing access to care was exactly the kind of fear that could drive many to “make the same bad decisions that lead them back to always feeling the need to chase a high.”
Hope — the ultimate treatment
In spite of all that she’s willing to share about her experiences, what’s most impressive about Whitney is the positive outlook that she viewed every aspect of her life through. Whether she was discussing her struggle to get clean or the tension of maintaining health coverage, every word of hers is accompanied by a confident smile that lit up the room.
When asked what she would say to someone who saw Medicaid spending as an expensive handout in need of trimming, she paused for a moment, flashed that humble grin and replied, “The growth I’ve had since 2014 has been tremendous. Every day I tell myself that this entire struggle is only temporary. So, I would tell them that I’m going to be dynamite someday, but just give me one more year.”