Opioid Treatment Program Provides Motivation, Encouragement and Healing
Program Spotlight: Covedale Treatment Services, Cincinnati, Ohio
Executive Director: Shanae Allen, B.S., LCDC III, CADC
At Pinnacle Treatment, we treat every community we serve like it’s our home. Our patients become family and our neighbors become friends. We offer residents a safe, non-judgmental space where they can get the treatment they need, delivered with the compassion and respect they deserve. We’re committed to their success as individuals, and we’re committed to the well-being of our communities as a whole.
Our mission is to restore balance and healing – to individuals, families, and communities suffering with alcohol and substance use disorders.
This week, we put the spotlight on our opioid treatment program (OTP) Covedale Treatment Services in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Covedale’s Executive Director, Shanae Allen, spoke with us recently about the center, opioid addiction in general, and how she and the Covedale staff work every day to help the community they know and love.
Hi Shanae. Thanks for your time today. Could you tell us a little about your background?
Hello. You’re welcome. Yes, I’d be happy to. What would you like to know?
Let’s start with your education and professional credentials.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an emphasis in Criminology. I’m also a licensed drug addiction and substance abuse counselor in Ohio and Kentucky.
How long have you been working in the addiction field?
Almost 10 years – since 2010.
How long have you been at Covedale Treatment?
I’ve worked with Pinnacle, our parent company – since 2013. I’ve been here at Covedale Treatment Services since 2018.
Could you tell us more about your clinic? What happens there? What services do you offer the community?
We’re a fully licensed opioid treatment program with approximately 25 staff members including therapists, nurses and doctors. Our purpose is to help people who are addicted to opioids, whether that means misused prescription pills like Vicodin, black market-produced drugs like Fentanyl, or street drugs like heroin. We offer the latest, evidence-based treatments for opioid use disorder. The most effective way to treat opioid addiction is with a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), including methadone and bupenorphine, counseling, and social support – so that’s what we do here at Covedale.
Would you explain Medication-Assisted Treatment?
MAT is a type of addiction treatment that uses medication to alleviate uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms, reduce drug cravings, and manage some of the difficult and sometimes very painful emotional symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Two big factors that keep people hooked on opioids are the awful withdrawal symptoms and the intense cravings – people get blinded by the pain they’re in and the drive to make it go away. All they can think about is the drug, because they feel so horrible. With the medication we use, the worst of that goes away. People start to return to reality, come out of the fog of addiction, and learn how to live a life that’s not dominated by getting that next fix by any means necessary.
What medications do you use?
Methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol
There’s a lot of misinformation about methadone out there. Could you address some of the common misunderstandings for us?
The first misunderstanding is that MAT programs are for heroin addicts only – that’s not true. MAT works for any type of opioid addiction. The second misunderstanding is that using medication to treat an addiction is simply exchanging one addiction for another. That’s not true either. What these medications do is stabilize individuals physically, psychologically, and emotionally, so they can then start participating in psychotherapy.
So the medications are not the treatment?
The medications are part of the treatment – but only a part. They take care of the withdrawal and the cravings. An interesting fact is that time-wise, the medication is actually a miniscule part of the treatment services we offer here at Covedale. The vast majority of the time our patients spend with us is in individual counseling sessions and group therapy.
I bet people in the community don’t know that.
They probably don’t – and we want them to. We want them to understand we don’t just dispense medication and then forget about our patients. We have some really fantastic groups here where we do good work. And our patients work hard at getting better. We’re focused on helping people get their lives back on track.
That sounds different than what most people think methadone clinics are. Is that what you want the people of Covedale to understand about Covedale Treatment?
Yes, because we are not just a methadone clinic, we are a substance abuse treatment center, there’s a difference. I can’t speak for other programs, but what we do here is entirely focused on helping all aspects of our patients’ lives – mind, body, and soul. We treat the whole person. We do that with groups, counseling sessions, community events, family events, and yes, with medication. So yes, we may be different than other opioid treatment centers. I know that everyone on my team cares about the people we work with and the community we work in. We want to connect with the community we serve. We want to bridge the gap. We want to be part of the community, and we want the community to be part of us.
What do you see as Covedale Treatment’s role in the community?
We work to help our patients gain control of their lives and not be controlled by addiction. We’re here to show people that there’s more to life than suffering from drug addiction. That’s our role with our patients. For the community, our role is to educate. We want them to know what we’re trying to do is get these people back on track, which ultimately helps the entire community. We’re all in this together.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered in treating people in this community?
On a community level, it’s been acceptance, which comes down to a combination of knowledge and understanding. Once people know about and understand what we do, the obstacles fade: they accept us and welcome us. At the individual level – meaning with our patients – the main thing we work to overcome is the shame of addiction. We devote a lot of energy to getting our patients to take pride in themselves, take pride in their recovery, and see the value of the treatment they’re getting. Their biggest obstacle is believing in themselves, and believing they can do it. We instill that belief in them, even when they don’t think they deserve it.
What’s the key to that?
It all comes back to education. Forever – well it seems like forever – people thought of addiction as a moral failure, some kind of character flaw, or a lack of willpower. People battling addiction thought this, their families thought this, and even most of the mental health professionals working in addiction thought this. However, that idea – which is entirely incorrect, by the way – is slowly fading. When we teach people they have a chronic, relapsing disease, like diabetes, then they stop beating themselves up about it. And when they understand they need treatment for their disease, like people need treatment for diabetes, they start to turn the corner. They begin healing.
What’s your personal healing philosophy?
In the context of addiction treatment, my golden rule is respect. I operate from the principle we’re all human, first and foremost. Like Maya Angelou said – we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. It may seem obvious, but I start there, with respect. That means I don’t see my patients as bad people. I see them as sick people. They’re broken. They’re hurting almost all day every day. They’ve lost touch with reality. For them, drugs have become their everything: their significant other, their security blanket, their coping mechanism, their release, their comfort – it’s the entire lens through which they view their lives.
And you help them change all that?
Yes. It takes time, though. Our patients learn that healing is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it might not happen in a straight line. Patients might take three steps forward and one step back. Or one step forward and three steps back – just being real here. My job, no matter where they are in their process, is to listen to what’s going on with them, hold them accountable, and give them the services they need so they can continue healing. My patients understand that even though I see them as family, I’m not necessarily there to be their friend. I’m a professional, and my area of expertise is helping them beat addiction.
How did you end up working in addiction?
It wasn’t planned. I started off on more of a social work-related path. When I was an undergraduate, I did an internship working in a diversion program for juvenile offenders. That was around 2005 or 2006, when methamphetamine was the biggest problem. I worked in a homeless shelter, and I saw kids coming in addicted. Adolescents and pre-adolescents in middle school, already smoking weed. Some had been sold or pimped by their parents as prostitutes to get money for drugs.
I’d spend time with these kids, but I realized that every day, they were going back to an environment that was undoing all the work we were doing.
These kids lived in a broken system. The environment was the real cause of their issues. The home environment. I realized that to help the kids, I needed to get to the adults. I needed to change the home environment.
And that’s why you switched?
It’s more personal than that. I was on the cusp of making that change, then one day – while I was working my afternoon program with the teenagers – I got a phone call that changed everything. It certainly changed my mind for me. This was in 2009. I was sitting there working with juvenile offenders, and I got the news that my little brother – a juvenile himself – had been shot in a violent, drug-related altercation. That’s another thing I want the people in the community of Covedale to know. The suffering and pain caused by drugs and addiction is not theoretical or abstract to me. It’s very real. I’ve felt the pain myself, in my own heart. I’m not trying to swoop in, solve things, and leave. I’m all about showing up, rolling up my sleeves, and staying until the job is done. And that’s not just me: all the people I work with at Pinnacle have the same attitude.
That brings us to our next question: Why did you choose Pinnacle?
I had two criteria in my job search: I wanted to work with a company who put their patients and staff first, and I wanted to work with a company where there was room for personal and professional growth and development. Pinnacle ticked both those boxes, so I applied.
What was your first job with Pinnacle?
I was a counselor. I’m still a counselor at heart.
But you’ve been promoted several times, is that correct?
Yes. After 90 days, I was promoted to Training Coordinator. In November of 2015, I was promoted to Clinical Supervisor at Northern Kentucky Med Clinic. Then in January of 2018, I moved to Ohio to become Clinical Supervisor at Covedale. Now I’m the Executive Director of Covedale Treatment Services.
Is there anything you want the people of Covedale to know about you we haven’t covered?
I want them to know that I genuinely care and want to help. As the leader of this clinic, I come last. It’s not about what I want, it’s about what my team needs, what my patients need. I work to make sure that my patients and staff are taken care of. In order to treat that whole person, not just the addiction, my staff, the counselors, have to feel supported as well. I’m big on self-care. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to help someone. I love to laugh and have fun. Let’s have some fun because this can be a very stressful field.
Is there anything else you’d like the people of Covedale to know about your clinic? What do you see in the future?
I want them to know we’re expanding! Soon we’ll have more space. Which means more community events, more therapy, and more counseling. It means more treatment for more people, basically. What I’m most excited about is having more space for our group counseling sessions.
You mentioned you have some fantastic groups. Could you tell us more about them?
Yes – our groups are where all the action is around here. We have the standard types of groups you’ll find at most treatment centers. Groups such as “The Psychology of Addiction,” “Relapse Prevention,” and “How to Identify and Manage Triggers.” But the groups I’m most proud of, and the groups I most want our community to know about, are the groups we created and tailored to meet the needs of this specific population.
You’re ready for my big list?
Yes, we’re ready!
Okay. Here goes.
We have a pregnancy group for expecting mothers struggling with addiction.
We have a parenting group to teach those same moms basic parenting skills, since some of them are very young. The parenting group is for young fathers struggling with addiction, as well.
We have what’s called a “Seeking Safety” group, designed specifically for people with PTSD, or people who’ve experienced some type of trauma – that group helps teach them how to find and create physical and mental spaces where they feel safe and comfortable.
We have a Grief and Loss group run by a former pastor.
We have a Stage II Recovery group, designed to prepare patients who are stable on their medication to move from maintenance to abstinence to total independence.
We have a mindfulness group that’s amazing for teaching our patients techniques to control stress, manage anxiety, and to recognize the things they can control – themselves – and the things they can’t – the rest of the world.
Those groups sound important.
They are – and that’s not nearly all.
We have our family participation group, which is called Recovery Together. That group is exactly what it sounds like: loved ones and family members come in, learn about addiction and recovery, and learn how they can best help the person they’re there for. They learn how to “recover together” with their loved one. Most importantly, this group is where family members learn the critical distinction between supporting their loved one and enabling their addiction.
We also have a group we call Table Talk, which is my personal favorite. It’s a patient-driven process group, where our patients decide what recovery topic they want to focus on. This group gives patients ownership over their recovery and agency in what constitutes their treatment, which is important, as ownership and agency are two things addiction often steals from people.
Finally, we have our Intensive Substance Abuse Treatment Group (ISAT), which meets for 8 hours per week for 16 weeks. This group is for people who need more intensive treatment than medication and 2-4 hours of group therapy a week, but less treatment than say, a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient program.
And that’s all! I think I covered the most important ones.
Wait – I should also let everyone know about our next open house. It’s happening on August 22nd. We’re inviting anyone and everyone the community to come by and meet us face-to-face.
Shanae, thank you again for taking the time to talk to us today. We have one final question to ask, in closing.
In your opinion, what do people struggling with addiction need most right now, from our culture and society?
They need our support. Recovery is hard. Going through it alone is rough. I’ve seen this myself countless times: the people who have support are more successful than those who don’t. Support can come from anywhere, but it’s best if it comes from everywhere. By that I mean from family, from friends, from co-workers, from bosses – everybody. From society. And if you really want to support someone who’s in treatment or recovery from addiction, I have two pieces of advice.
The first is to imagine how you’d feel if you lost the one thing in the world that gave you the most comfort – that’s how people who quit drugs feel. They’re lost, alone, and without their go-to coping mechanism. I think if people understood that, there would be far less judgment about addiction.
The second piece of advice is to participate in as much of the treatment as you can. Go sit in meetings. Go to the family group therapy sessions. Learn if you’ve been an enabler, and if you have, learn how to stop enabling. At our clinic, we invite family members to come to the actual Admission appointment with their loved one, as well as Patient Orientation, which is an all-day experience that happens every Thursday. Family members learn about the treatment program alongside patients, which prepares them to offer the support that’s so crucial to successful, long-term recovery.
Thank you, Shanae.
You’re welcome – and don’t forget to come to our open house!
About Covedale Treatment Services
Covedale Treatment Services is located at 5122 Glencrossing Way in Cincinnati, Ohio. Medicating hours are 5:30 a.m. – Noon, Monday-Friday, and 5:30 – 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Counseling is available 5 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 5:30 – 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call 513-827-9044.