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When people in grief turn to drugs, the Center for Addiction Treatment has a special program to help

Posted at 6:44 PM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 10:54:31-05

CINCINNATI — After Stephanie Neeley’s husband died of a drug overdose, she thought she wanted to die, too.

"I didn't want to feel and a big part of me wanted to be with him," Neeley said.

She used fentanyl to numb her pain. She thought healing was impossible until she found a new drug treatment program that focuses on grief.

"I never imagined in my wildest dreams it could be this good," the 36-year-old Neeley said about the results she got from Gene Johnson’s grief group at the Center for Addiction Treatment in the West End.

"The most important thing they did was love me when I couldn't love myself and hold me up until I was able to stand on my own," Neeley said.

It wasn’t easy.

On Nov. 22, 2016, Neeley found her husband Matthew Singh dead in their bed, killed by fentanyl powder she tried to hide.

"That's when like the guilt started, which would grow from that day forward until I entered into the grief counseling here," Neeley said.

Angry, hurt and wanting to feel nothing, she bought and used fentanyl every day. Neeley even drove to get it with her 5-year-old in the backseat.

Then someone shot their car.

That’s when Neeley went to the Center for Addiction Treatment and landed in their grief group.

"I was taught the tools and how to cope with my grief and how to not carry that guilt around."

Since October, the center claims the grief group graduates patients at rates 11 to 19 percentage points higher than others.

"The bottom line is that they're really grieving the loss of themselves to their addiction," said Johnson.

Johnson said grief-driven addiction has red flags: people hit with depression, anxiety and no connection to others. So he teaches ways to work through grief, focusing on pain and its causes instead of avoiding them.

He was so moved by Neeley’s expression of gratitude during our interview that he choked up off camera.

Neeley said she is clean. She has gone six months without relapse – and not a single day managing grief alone.

The grief class takes patients by counselor referral only, but managers are looking at ways to get more people involved.