'Recovery Cafe' initiative to provide safe place for opioid addicts

LOWELL, Mass.  - From the outside looking in, it seems like any other coffee shop, but a "Recovery Cafe" in Lowell will offer much more than just dark roasts and blueberry muffins.

When it comes to the opioid crisis, relapse is a very real reality. With that in mind, a local non-profit has launched a new program designed to reduce the chances of relapse for those recovering from addiction.

Bill Garr is the CEO of Lowell House - a non-profit that provides support and services to drug users. Garr says up to 80 percent of users relapse if they don't have a solid support group to rely on.

"When you're in recovery and you have no place to go and nothing to do and no one to really talk to, the chances are you're going to get back to using drugs," said Garr.

That's where the Recovery Cafe comes in.

By bringing the first Recovery Cafe to Lowell, Garr and his staff hope to address the need for daytime support. The initiative has made great strides in other states, such as in Seattle.

"If there's a place, a cafe, where people are saying, 'Hey! come have a meal with us, get a cup of coffee, let's talk about the Red Sox,' people are going to engage with that," said Amanda Shaw, an employee with Lowell House.

The engagement is the true purpose in the initiative. The goal is to make individuals comfortable with asking for support and help.

The cafe also offers what is called the peer recovery method, where the cafe staff will be actively in recovery as well, creating an environment where users can relate to those trying to help.

"Who knows better than the whole indices - how to stay in recovery, how to prevent relapse - than the person who is in recovery," said Garr.

"When you have people who don't feel threatened in a space, they're more likely to listen, 'Hey, do you know we have these services?'" said Shaw.

In October, Shaw and her colleagues will fly to Seattle to train at a Recovery Cafe there. They already have two sites in mind when they launch their program in Lowell.

Christ Church United currently partners with Lowell House as part of their peer recovery effort. The church itself is one of two possible sites they're looking at for the first Recovery Cafe.

Life Connections Center will likely serve as the second site for the Recovery Cafe.

The cafe will have structured activities, and there will be a set of rules people will need to abide by. Garr said they're hoping to open in early winter.