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Catholic Charities’ Omaha Campus for Hope…provides oasis for drug addicts and alcoholics

Catholic Charities' Omaha Campus for Hope"¦provides oasis for drug addicts and alcoholics

Mike Phillips, program director at Catholic Charities' Omaha Campus for Hope, has 26 beds in both the short-term (25 to 45 days) and long-term (six months to two years) residential care programs.
Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 Steps to recovery.

1.     We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

2.     Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.     Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4.     Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5.     Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.     Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7.     Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8.     Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9.     Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10.   Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11.   Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12.   Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Catholic Voice

            Among the abandoned and dilapidated buildings that line North 16th Street in Omaha sits an oasis of hope for alcoholics and drug addicts.

            The Omaha Campus for Hope, operated by Catholic Charities, is the largest provider of accredited substance abuse treatment services for the poor in Nebraska.

            The campus, opened in 1998, offers a variety of services, including detoxification, civil and emergency protection, and residential care for short-term and long-term clients. Nearly 4,000 people are helped annually at the 35,000-square-foot building.

            'Chemical addictions impact all areas of a person's life, so we look at recovery as physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, vocational and volitional," Program Director Mike Phillips told The Catholic Voice.

            An addiction to alcohol and/or drugs is a 'treatable illness," he said, so people can recover and lead healthy, productive and meaningful lives.

            A staff of about 100 works at the campus, which is financed by Catholic Charities, government contracts and private donations. The staff includes drug and alcohol counselors, mental health practitioners, nurses, social workers, physician and a psychologist. Dr. David Hoover, DDS, also volunteers his part-time dental services.

            'We put a lot of resources into helping people change their lives," said Scot Adams, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

            For calendar year 2006, Catholic Charities' budget expenses are expected to total $11,352,000, with nearly $4,430,000 of the total going to the Campus for Hope.

            'The Catholic Church often speaks about a preferential option for the poor," Adams said. 'At Catholic Charities we understand and respond to their needs."

            Adams said the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services' observance of National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month in September is a time for the Campus for Hope to celebrate the positive side of addiction "“ the hope that comes with recovery.

            'The Campus for Hope gives us a lot of reasons to be optimistic and hopeful because people are given the tools to recover and rebuild their lives," he said.


            In recent years, the Campus for Hope has seen many of its clients' 'drug of choice" switch from alcohol to methamphetamine, Phillips said, with 65 percent now admitting that 'meth is their primary drug of choice" and 80 percent saying they used meth at some time.

            In May of this year, an editorial in the Omaha World-Herald stated:  'The list of expensive social challenges facing Nebraska is sobering. Mental health. Sex offenders. And now, in a dangerous variation on an old theme, methamphetamine abuse"¦The explosion in meth abuse, and the unique physical danger some abusers pose, has been all too evident."

            And local law enforcement is making more meth-related arrests than ever, with a recent case involving the arrest of a man possessing 17 pounds of crystal meth. A record $75 million bail was set for 34-year-old Arturo Estrada-Soberano of Omaha. Douglas Country Judge Craig McDermott ordered Estrada-Soberano to pay the full amount before he could be released.

            Dr. Nicholas Battafarano, medical director for Catholic Charities, has seen firsthand the societal and personal problems caused by methamphetamine addiction.

            'We've seen a dramatic increase in violent behavior by people using meth because they feel so intense and stay up for days at a time," he said about the drug that stimulates the central nervous system. 'When people are feeling so intense and not sleeping, they're more apt to act on aggressive impulses."

            Battafarano first saw the destructive consequences of methamphetamine addiction while working in Hawaii in the 1990s.

            'There were a lot of crimes committed by meth addicts, including burglaries, assaults and even murder," he said.

            He now sees the same problems in Omaha, where the popularity of methamphetamine has grown because 'its effects are longer lasting than cocaine and it's cheaper to get."

            Battafarano has seen the debilitating side effects of meth addiction, including weight and hair loss, dental decay, damage to liver and other internal organs due to ingestion of toxins, reduced levels of Dopamine that result in Parkinson's symptoms, and harm to neuron cell endings (Dopamine and Serotonin receptors/nerve ends are cutback and re-growth appears to be limited). Psychological side effects include paranoia, hallucinations, drug-induced psychosis, prolonged depression, anxiety reactions, disturbed sleep/wake cycle and anti-social behavior.

            'What makes it even worse is that meth addicts don't realize they are not functioning well," Battafarano said. 'At first, they have a lot of energy for work and personal things, but then they go downhill, getting preoccupied with unimportant things like cleaning excessively or talking nonstop."


            During his five years at the Campus for Hope, Phillips has seen his share of meth addicts.

            With methamphetamine, Phillips said, 'The addiction is so intense that it leads to an accelerated downward spiral."

            The drug is also an attractive stimulant, he said, for people living in a fast-paced culture. 'It's always go, go, go in our culture, so some people see meth as just the right drug for keeping up," he said. 'When they start using it, they have a lot of energy for everything such as work, family, hobbies, as well as increased sexual potency."

            The problem is that 'it's an illusion," he said. 'In four to six months, meth turns on them. The job is gone, the house is a wreck, the kids are not supervised and the physical problems begin. But by then, they are addicted and they feel they can't live without the drug."

            When drug addicts enter the Campus for Hope's treatment program, Phillips said, their 'bad lifestyle choices" are looked at so they can understand that their addiction is destroying them and it's 'more than a choice"¦it's a disease."

            He said the treatment, which focuses on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and motivational interviewing, has been structured differently for meth addicts.

            'When someone is coming off meth, they really crash, so they will sleep 24 to 36 hours," Phillips said. 'That's why we do pre-treatment (one to seven days) to slowly work them into an integrated treatment program. They need sleep and high nutrition meals. We're looking for physical and mental health recovery so that they can concentrate on changing their attitudes and lifestyles."

            He said the key for alcoholic and drug addicted clients is to never lose hope.

            'We ask them what their values are and what their behaviors are like when they're using drugs. They don't match. When in recovery, they can return to the people who were lost to them. They can recover their hopes and dreams. We give them the tools to do better. The focus is on getting them to make better choices," Phillips said.


            The day Tom (a pseudonym) was released from the Nebraska State Penitentiary he was admitted into the short-term residential care program at the Campus for Hope.

            'I've done a lot of meth," the 22-year-old said. 'I'd shoot it intravenously. It was like putting the devil in me."

            Tom, a high school dropout, started using meth as a teenager after meeting a 37-year-old woman who later became his girlfriend.

            'I had left home when I was 16 because of family problems. They were actually my problems because I was skipping school and not listening to my parents. I didn't want to live by their rules," he said.

            Eventually, Tom lived with his girlfriend. 'We did a lot of meth. We both kept working at first, and it was fun for a couple of months, but then we started fighting. I just kept doing more and more meth."

            In a matter of months, the six-foot, 180-pound Tom saw his weight drop to 140. He had 'real bad acne" and trouble eating and sleeping regularly, he said.

            'There were times when I'd just hide in the house because I thought people were out to get me," he said.

            'Then there were the constant fights with my girlfriend. We'd fight whenever we didn't have meth. When we had it, we'd be okay for a while, but the ugly cycle of fighting continued. I ended up in jail four times because of that relationship."

            After the last altercation, Tom was arrested for assault and sent to the state penitentiary, where he was imprisoned for 20 months.

            'I feel it was an intervention by God," he said. 'I hated myself and wanted to get away from her and the drugs."

            While in prison, Tom earned his GED and took some correspondent courses through Metropolitan Technical Community College. He also went to AA meetings twice a week and attended church services.

            'I took it serious," he said. 'I didn't want to be a troublemaker who ends up back in prison."

            When Tom was paroled on July 31, 2006, he had lunch with his family and then checked into the Campus for Hope. Short-term residential treatment was a condition of his parole.

            On Aug. 28, Tom finished treatment at the Campus for Hope. He is now working and preparing to attend Wayne State College to seek a major in architectural engineering.

            'My goals are to stay sober and go to college," Tom said. 'I thank God every day that I'm clean. I now have a chance."

The Catholic Voice

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