Thaddeus Walter wrote the pastor from a Campbell County jail cell.
He had no money, nowhere to go, no family ties. And Walter was dealing with an addiction to alcohol and methamphetamine, among other drugs.
The pastor’s reply came with a one-way taxi ride to Roanoke: Try Rescue Mission of Roanoke.
“It’s been a great journey,” said Walter, 42, who graduates Friday from the mission’s year-long substance abuse program. “There were a lot of times when I wanted to or I thought about quitting. But I just had it in my head that I need to see it through, all the way through.”
The Rescue Mission on Saturday will host a fundraiser rally celebrating the 25th anniversary of its recovery services. Highlights include music and testimonials from graduates of the program, which staff said remains the only long-term, abstinence-based recovery program in Roanoke.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” said Tracy Altizer, chief development officer at the Rescue Mission. “While you may not be an addict, and nobody in your family is, maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s your friend’s brother struggling with it, and you’re trying to figure out how to help them.”
When it comes to opioid addictions, the program’s abstinence-only policy puts it at odds with prevailing medical science. Rescue Mission staff have had many conversations about medication-assisted therapy, which, when properly administered, has shown to be at least three times more effective for opioid addiction than abstinence-only treatment.
“Most programs you go to, that’s where the trend is going,” said Helen Ferguson, chief program officer. “If you don’t want that as your option, or you’re an individual who doesn’t respond well to that, you don’t have many options for programs.”
And no medication-assisted treatment equivalent has been developed for addiction to meth, which the staff says is increasingly popular.
Carilion Clinic said it has a strong working relationship with the mission.
“The Rescue Mission’s substance abuse recovery program provides a valuable resource for our community,” Dr. David Hartman, a Carilion psychiatrist, said in a statement. “A problem as complex as the opioid epidemic is one that requires a multifaceted, compassionate solution.”
The Roanoke Valley HOPE Initiative, which refers people to addiction treatment, said it educates them about the mission’s program and partners with the organization to meet people’s needs.
Since it emerged to help mostly middle-aged men with addictions to alcohol, the service has expanded.
Every month, as many as 20 people start the mission’s substance abuse program, which consists of classes on relapse, anger management and life skills.
For about a year, participants are required to live and work at the mission, attend 12-step meetings in the community, and become involved in a church of their choice.
More than 850 people have entered the program since 2008, when records were digitized, according to Kim Gembala, chief administrative officer.Since the program began in 1994, it’s graduated 304 people.
It’s difficult to measure the program’s success rate, staff said. Someone could graduate then relapse, and another person could drop out of the program and remain sober, for example.
Ferguson said the mission is in the process of adding a case manager to follow up with participants months after they leave.
For Walter, the mission’s program has so far proved useful.
“I truly believe this place, it saved my life,” he said.
Walter is now staying in a sober living home, and hopes to work with people in addiction or mental health recovery.
Saturday’s rally will feature a performance by singer and bass player Scott Mulvahill and a keynote speech by Monty Burks, director of faith-based initiatives at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The Skolrood Law Firm based in Roanoke County has pledged up to $70,000 to be matched by donors through the end of the month. The nonprofit Rescue Mission doesn’t receive government funding.