( 2 Votes )

John HalpinJohn Halpin was the last person to realize what everyone around him already knew: He was an addict.

Now a substance abuse counselor living with his wife and children at Lake Monticello, 30-odd years ago Halpin was living in a friend’s basement in his native southern New Jersey. The drinking and drug use that had once been “a lot of fun” had turned into something destructive.

Halpin grew up in an environment where drug and alcohol abuse was common and where alcohol, in particular, was always around. “It would have been unusual if I didn’t drink,” he said.

Like many who develop substance abuse problems, he didn’t recognize that his need to keep using was not a matter of choice but rather a physical dependence that became harder and harder to rationalize away.

“I wasn’t really working,” he said of those days. “My family had written me off.” He was facing multiple DUIs and drug possession charges. To top it off, he crashed his car and went through the windshield, causing injuries to his face and eyes that required several rounds of plastic surgery to repair. “Not just emotionally and not just spiritually, but physically...I was in pretty bad shape,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to, but I ended up going into treatment,” he said. “Eventually, it saved my life.”

Treatment slowly gave him the tools he needed to give up alcohol and drugs. As time went on, he said he made a crucial switch – from “I can’t drink or do drugs anymore” to “I can do so many other things that I couldn’t do before.”

Armed with this new mindset, Halpin rebuilt his life. He became a certified rehabilitation counselor in 1992 and went on to work in counseling and education in Pennsylvania and Vermont. He married and had a family. The Halpins settled at Lake Monticello about 11 years ago, and he took a job as a rehabilitation counselor for substance abuse services through the Region Ten Community Service Board.

Seeing “such a need for treatment [programs] in this area,” he partnered with fellow substance abuse counselor Randall Luster in 2015 to form Orchard Mountain Recovery. 

Located on Rio Road in Charlottesville, Orchard Mountain is an intensive outpatient program, giving clients some of the benefits of inpatient programs – group, family and individual counseling, education, medical evaluation, monitoring and continuing care – while allowing them to stay in their homes and their lives. Clients have come to them from all over the Charlottesville area, including Fluvanna.

Giving people the tools they need to move past addiction and helping them develop their own support systems is clearly Halpin’s passion. It’s a way “to repay some of the debt to which I hold my life,” he said.
The need is clearly there.  Last year, the surgeon general reported that one in seven Americans will develop substance abuse issues in their lifetime. An estimated 21 million Americans struggle with addiction on a daily basis. “These are not just people living under bridges,” Halpin noted. “They are people that we see every day – coworkers, family members, friends.”

The economic impact is over $400 billion a year; the emotional and physical impact is impossible to calculate. Yet just 10 percent of substance abusers will ever receive treatment.

The opioid epidemic only increases the life-or-death stakes. According the Virginia Department of Health, a record 822 Virginians died from opioid overdose in 2016 – almost 200 more than those killed in traffic accidents. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a public health emergency last November and the General Assembly passed several bills to combat the epidemic during its 2017 session.

Fluvanna has only recorded one opioid-related death in the past decade, but that doesn’t mean the county is immune.  While it’s hard to quantify, Halpin said he’s seen “a lot of heroin use” in the Fluvanna, and “not just among younger people.” Most of those who ultimately die of opioid abuse are between the ages of 45-54. 

For all the problems, Halpin sees a lot of positives. When he was in need, treatment programs were hard to find and “somewhat mysterious,” he said. Today, it’s much easier to access care. The kind of social stigma that led his mother to buy bundles of newspapers so the neighbors wouldn’t find out about his misadventures has not vanished, but has certainly lessened.

Even those living in small towns like Palmyra can find help. “The local recovery community is very open and welcoming,” he said, “and you have some friends you can fall in with and develop that critical support group.”
To learn more about Orchard Mountain Recovery, visit http://www.orchardmtnrecovery.com/ or call 434-282-2294.