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'Recovery Cafe' in Longmont helping those who are in recovery, overcoming recent trauma

Fentanyl-related deaths have taken the lives of Coloradans of all ages, and this recovery organization is trying new ways to talk about addiction and recovery.

LONGMONT, Colo. — It doesn't take long for a room of familiar faces to fill a safe space in Longmont.

For Becky Milanski, she expects a crowd on the first Friday of the month, as it's "open mic night" at Recovery Cafe Longmont.

"So we're a refuge of hope and healing for people in recovery, and we believe that everyone is in recovery from something," she said. "We believe that everyone is worthy of giving and receiving love, and everyone has gifts to give no matter where they are on their recovery journey."

Milanski is a Peer Support Specialist and volunteer coordinator at the spot that hosts recovery classes, meditation, support groups (known as "recovery circles") as well as offer space for AA meetings. 

While she wears many hats at Recovery Cafe, recovery is a journey Milanski knows herself.

Credit: Luis de Leon
Becky Milanski, Peer Support Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator at Recovery Café-Longmont.

A conversation at the mic

The Longmont location is part of a network of 37 Recovery Cafes across the country, with the only other Colorado location in Rifle. 

Milanski started out as a volunteer for the organization the year it started in Longmont, in 2019 -- the same year she began her own recovery journey.

"I am in recovery from opioid use disorder. I pretty much struggled with it for about 30 years, with the last 13 years being the worst. I started off of using opioids, got from prescription, then went to the dark web... And my last drug of choice was fentanyl because it was easy to get and cheap," she recalled. 

It's a journey that she's able to translate to her position with Recovery Cafe. 

"The opposite of addiction is connection. And I know personally, you can't recover alone, you know, and having a peer, someone who's been where you're at really helps you on your recovery journey because they understand where you've been and you can really meet you where you're at," she said. 

Open mic night is a chance for its members and the entire community to come out on the first Friday of each month and perform for a few hours. 

Everything from poetry, reading, storytelling, singing, musical instruments and even comedy. 

It also gives a chance for people to share their own story of recovery. 

The services offered are free, and are extended to those that also overcame trauma or a recent crisis. 

There are three requirements for membership, including being sober for 24 hours, that they give back to the cafe in some way, and that they attend their weekly recovery circle while also following their guiding principles. 

Before the pandemic, Milanski estimates they had close to 40 members, and are now above 30 members. 

65% of their members record having a substance use disorder, 49% report having mental health challenges, and 55% either have or are currently experiencing homelessness. 

"I mean, most of our folks have co-occurring disorders, which is having a mental health issue and an addiction issue. But I believe the pandemic has only worsened it," she said. 

Adding to this, the recent uptick in fentanyl-related deaths, taking the lives of Coloradans of all ages, have shifted the conversation towards prevention options. 

"We need a lot of education on addiction and also treatment options prevention, especially for kids at school," she said.

Recovery Cafe is also hiring for two positions.Click here to apply.

Credit: Foster Gaines
People listen to those at the microphone during Recovery Cafe Longmont's "open mic night"

Fentanyl in Colorado

 According to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), they have recorded 1,757 total drug overdose deaths among Colorado residents in 2021 through routine vital records/death certificate registration.

That compares to 1,477 in 2020. 

Of the overdose deaths in 2021, we note that 1,173 involved some form of opioid, and 854 drug overdose deaths specifically involved fentanyl of some form, compared to 540 in 2020. 

"It's a multifaceted problem. A lot of times people don't know that there is fentanyl in their supply," Milanski said. "So it's cheap. It's easy. And I think it's added to the supply to increase the high or to get people dependent, but it is so cheap to make and manufacture."

In Milanski's personal opinion, she believes that criminalizing fentanyl possession is not going to solve the issues Colorado is facing. 

"We can't arrest our way out of this problem," she said. 

The cafe is also enrolled in the naloxone bulk purchase fund from the state, so they're able to provide the life-saving medicine that helps reverse an opioid overdose to their members.

Colorado Health Network, Vivent Health and the Harm Reduction Action Center all have local harm reduction services, including distributing naloxone and fentanyl testing strips.

RELATED: More Colorado school districts ordering naloxone in case of an overdose

RELATED: Criminalization doesn't work, harm reduction advocate says


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