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Holiday season can worsen substance abuse recovery and addiction struggles

DANE COUNTY (WKOW) — Joseph Galey spent 20 years addicted to drugs. He was facing a failed marriage, a sick parent, and the potential of prison.

“It got to a point where I had no hope, didn’t think I was going to amount to anything,” he said.

One of the last times he used, he woke up on his bathroom floor with a needle in his arm and Fentanyl in his system. It was a stronger drug than he was used to.

That’s when he knew something had to change.

“I knew if I kept going down this path, it wasn’t going to end good,” he said.

That’s when he was given a second chance. He got help, and was approached to become a recovery coach with Safe Communities. It’s a local non-profit that uses programs and partnerships to make the community a better place.

This includes working with people who are struggling with substance abuse, and directing them to resources for treatment.

Galey often gets called to hospitals to assist those who have either overdosed or are suffering from substance use disorder.

“Whatever they want, I’m there to try to help bridge the gap between asking for help and actually receiving that service,” he said.

He’s a resource for anyone going through what he faced for 20 years, especially during the holiday season when he says things like past trauma or family dynamics can trigger an already vulnerable group.

“I know there are a lot of relapses and things that happen during holidays so I think it’s an important time for people to know there’s help out there,” he said.

They can call on a peer like Galey or they can make a call.

The United Way’s 211 is a program developed in the 1990s that operates a hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rachel Gundacker, the program’s director, said they also refer people to things that can help with their most basic needs like food, rent and utilities. They make it easy by cataloging all the available resources in the state, and making sure they’re right there and ready for referral.

Referrals spike around the holidays, Gundacker said.

“We get a lot of folks calling for Thanksgiving baskets, where they can go to get a hot meal on Thanksgiving,” she said.

They also hear from those struggling with substance abuse. They have an additional resource for that: the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Hotline. Anyone who dials 211 can be directed to that line.

“I think that’s also why now is a really good time to be spotlighting these programs so that people are aware that they’re out there, so that they don’t feel that they’re going through it alone at the holidays,” she said.

She said they can connect people to support groups or sober living facilities. They also refer callers to Safe Communities, where Galey works.

She and Galey said they don’t have to be alone.

“There’s places out there that they can celebrate with, so they should give us a call,” Gundacker said.

The hotline went live in Dane County last October. Since then, they’ve made 5,594 contacts and made almost 12,000 referrals.

2,637 callers reported they were suffering from alcohol abuse, and 1,155 people reported that they were addicted to cocaine. Heroin, opioids, amphetamines, and marijuana also made appearances this past year.

Most of the people that called were representing themselves. Galey said he knows it’s hard but he hopes people in recovery or who are struggling will pick up the phone and reach out.

As for family and friends, Galey said they should give those suffering some extra space this holiday season, but keep their hearts open.

“Just treat them as part of the family, someone that needs a little extra support, a little extra love,” he said.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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