First steps at Riverbank House - Substance abuse recovery program hosts open house at Laconia facility

Officer Eric Adams gets a tour of Riverbank's Launch House with Dan Farrell during the Open House on Friday afternoon.   (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)



LACONIA — "Three weeks ago, I woke up on a couch with blood dripping out of my nose and soaking my shirt," Austin said. "A friend had stayed awake all night to make sure I kept breathing. I was using on Christmas Day and I got here on New Year's Day."
"Here" is a large, rambling white frame house on Messer Street, one of a half-dozen properties that together make up the campus of Riverbank House, a community for men seeking to recover from addiction that lines the banks of the Winnipesaukee River just north of the Church Street Bridge. In 2012, Randy Bartlett, whom Dan Farrell, a 24-year-old recovering alcoholic in charge of marketing calls the "Wille Wonka of recovery," founded Riverbank House at 96 Church St. With the acquisition and renovation of neighboring properties, the community has grown from 16 to 36 beds and is on the brink of adding another 30.
Austin is spending his last days at "the launch," or crisis stabilization facility, the first stop on a continuum of care leading to recovery. Michael Metz, the program director, explained that clients spend between seven and days at "the launch" where, under the supervision of a physician, they are given a protocol consisting of medications four times a day to dispel the physiological symptoms of their addiction. Metz said that during their first days clients are gradually introduced to the subsequent steps of the remaining phases of their recovery program.
After detoxification, clients are transferred to Riverbank House to begin a six-month program that may be followed by as many as 18 months of transitional living. Bartlett believes that length of stay is the single most important predictor of success in overcoming addiction. The average length of stay as Riverbank House is between 60 and 180 days.
"I've never felt this good in my entire life," Austin said. "I stopped learning at 17, but I'm learning something new every day."
Now nearing 30, he said he grew up around alcohol and began drinking constantly as a teenager. Originally from Manchester, he lived in Rockland, Maine, where, as a junior in high school, he was an all-state linebacker whose prowess on the gridiron drew attention from college coaches.
"I shattered my ankle playing basketball," Austin recalled, "and began taking painkillers." At 17, he was "speedballing," or mixing cocaine with prescription opioids. And he continued to drink.
"I loved to party, so I did the cocaine that kept me going so I could drink," he said. He enrolled at Husson University in Bangor, Maine. He played football, continued to drink and drug and got into so many fights he was ultimately told to leave.
Austin enlisted in the Navy, where he became an air traffic controller on an aircraft carrier.
"I landed jet airplanes on the deck of a carrier," he said.
But, he continued to drink and after a rugby match in Malaysia awoke to find himself in handcuffs. Posted to San Diego, he returned to drugs.
"That was the downfall," he said. "Coke pills, heroin — everything — and I got kicked out of the Navy."
Returning to Rockland to live with a sister, Austin began working on lobster boats. Although he continued to drink, he gave up drugs for a spell, but soon began using again. For three years he said he lived for cocaine, pills and heroin before checking into a detoxification program in June 2015.
"I sobered up, then had a beer at my sister's wedding and went back to doing drugs, " he said. He remembered thinking he was a lobsterman as he shuffled from one job to the next, then confessed, "All I was doing was getting a reputation as a drug addict."
Then Austin woke up covered in blood, on the couch. As he poised a needle over his forearm, he asked himself, "Why am I doing this? I don't need this. It's overwhelming," he continued. "You just don't want to be sick," he said, referring to the pangs of withdrawal. "You're always chasing. I got tired of chasing that dragon."
He said that the $20,000 he had saved to tide him over during the winter was gone and he figured "if a cat has nine lives, I've got five already."
"I reached out," Austin said. His family, with who he had not spent Christmas in years, came together for him.
"My father told me 'I want to die before you do,'" he recalled.
Austin called Bartlett, but hesitated when he learned the cost of the program.
"Randy, told me to get myself down here and we'd work it out," he said. "I'm paid up for three months."
"I'm high on life. I can do this," Austin declared. "I landed planes on an aircraft carrier!"

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Gilford selectmen approve rules for new police fitness center

GILFORD – The Selectboard unanimously approved a policy for a fitness center in the newly renovated police station that allows police to keep physically fit, which is a state requirement for most of them to continue as police officers.

Chief Anthony Bean Burpee said yesterday the space was allocated in the building plan but all of the equipment either comes from donations of town officers and a pool of money officers and staff all contributed to.

He said the town policy gives each officer an annual stipend of $300 to offset the costs of staying fit. He said the employees in his department all pooled the money, donated it to the Gilford Police Relief Fund and then used it to purchase additional equipment. Bean Burpee said that no other money in the fund was used for equipping the center.

The policy goes on to describe specific policies regarding its use, including doctor's waivers, providing for a program supervisor who is responsible for orienting all employees who will take the orientation before they use it.

Other standard provisions require a sign-in sheet, a provision that the room be kept clean and orderly, and one the recommends employees workout with others and not alone.

The policy states that the fitness center is open 24 hours a day, but that all will use the sign-in sheets.

In other town business related to the Police Department, selectmen  approved a two-year contract with Teamsters Local 633 that represents the members of police department and calls for an additional $2,351 in raises in 2016. The contract also calls for $2,413 in raises in 2017.

Ice rink to open soon

Parks and Recreation Director Herb Greene said that because of the warm December, the ice rink was not able to open on the Jan. 11 target date. He said that they have been able to make ice this past week and is planning on opening it this weekend.

Selectmen's Chairman Gus Benavides encouraged all residents to use the rink because he recently saw some people skating on Lake Winnipesaukee and said he felt they were too close to open water. He said he is thrilled to have the rink open because this is a real safety concern for him and others.

Fire Department Lt. Jeff Marden said yesterday that the ice, especially on area lakes, is not safe for either ice fishing or skating and that his department has still not pulled its rescue boat from the water for the winter season. He said the department encourages all skaters to use the town rink.


Hearing delayed in alleged kidnapping case

LACONIA – A probable cause hearing scheduled for accused kidnapper Russell Holliday was continued yesterday with the agreement of both the state and his defense team.

Holliday is charged with kidnapping, criminal threatening, being a felon in possession of a weapon and reckless conduct.

According to affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, his alleged victim, his estranged girlfriend, said she was able to convince Holliday at one point to give him a loaded .22 caliber gun during her 16-hour ordeal. She was able to get to the Gilford Police Department when he allowed her go outside and have a cigarette. She took his car and drove to the police department.

Holliday is being held in the Belknap County House of Corrections on $100,000 cash-only bail. AS of yesterday, no date has been scheduled for the probable cause hearing.