Tampa drug recovery center launches program for military members

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TAMPA, Fla. – Merriam-Webster defines valor as personal bravery.

Kirk Kirkpatrick, CEO of Riverside Recovery Tampa, says it aptly fits the name given to the center’s newest program designed specifically for military members—active or retired—struggling with addiction.

”Battling addiction is one of the hardest things they’ll ever had to confront and valor means having bravery in spite of horrible circumstances,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick knows because he’s been there too.

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The former athlete and Tampa area native is a recovering alcoholic. He helped launch Riverside Recovery in Aug. 2017 after his own rehabilitation experience.

Now the center is launching a new abuse treatment program—Valor—specifically for military members.

It comes at a time when more Americans have now been killed from overdosing on opioids than were killed serving our country in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control. Roughly 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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“In order to serve this population, you have to understand their culture,” said Riverside Recovery COO Abbey Brown. 

“For many veterans their only resources are the V-As and while they do a tremendous job they are … dealing with a population that’s growing rapidly and if you don’t understand what makes them tick it’s hard to serve them.”

Alcohol use is higher among military service members than among civilians, according to the CDC, with nearly half of active duty service members—47 percent—reporting binge drinking in 2008. Prescription drug abuse is also higher among service. 

“We do see a lot of prescription drug use in this population,” Brown said. “It’s tough on the body. So they come back and receive the help they need—possibly a surgery—but that could launch a problem.”

Brown says it’s important to understand that psychological wounds from service can often contribute to substance abuse, which is why the treatment at Riverside Recovery for military members focuses on social, emotional, physical and spiritual therapies.

Frank Jones, a local veteran and recovering alcoholic, can appreciate the increased options being made available to veterans who need it.

“Once I got back to the states, I found myself drinking more,” Jones said. “I was self-medicating.”

Alcohol became Jones’ vice when the Army medic got out of the military at age 22. He says memories of a helicopter crash he responded to where he was only able to save one of two people on board haunted him. 

He drank to cope with his anxiety, depression and PTSD, Jones said.

Eventually, Jones lost his home before later finding sobriety 14 years ago. Jones has spent the past two and a half years giving back to local veterans through the Vet Center in Pasco County, which is funded through the VA. The Vet Center provides counseling and outreach support to veterans.

“We self-medicate to forget the things we’ve gone through,” he recalled. “And then there’s a lot of soldiers who are coming back wounded, and so they might be taking some prescribed medicines to help with the pain, and a lot of times, that’s how people become dependent on opioids.”

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