A Way Out's addiction symposium saw full attendance on Oct. 5. Photo by Nikki Hausherr

Thursday, Oct. 5, community members and licensed professionals alike attended a sold-out, free-with-registration educational breakfast symposium presented by A Way Out. This local organization provides access to treatment and recovery support for individuals and families in crisis with substance abuse. 

The annual Addiction Symposium, which has previously been held in Aspen, took place at TACAW this year and featured three nationally-renowned speakers, as well as information booths from 10 of the event’s 11 sponsor organizations.

Speakers Judith Grisel, Kevin McCauley and Tony Hoffman presented new research on substance abuse, brain development and mental health, focusing on how and why addiction happens and the physiological effects of drugs and alcohol. All gave powerful presentations and brought expertise in their fields, sharing from both their research and personal experiences. 

Becky Gordon, executive director of A Way Out, stressed that the symposium is truly designed to be an educational opportunity for the community, not just an event for speakers to promote their work. She hopes the event was, and will continue to be, beneficial not only for licensed area professionals in mental health and substance abuse recovery, but also to anyone interested in the topic, including folks who may have loved ones struggling. 

“We’re hoping everybody walked out of there with something valuable that they learned — that’s really the goal of the symposium,” she said.

With a strong community showing and lively conversation and connection happening all around TACAW, people were clearly excited to engage with each other and the presentation topics, and many left feeling empowered by what they had learned. The symposium is part of A Way Out’s broader goal of bringing recovery support to communities across western Colorado. Gordon states that the organization’s mission is “to provide individuals and families who are in crisis with substance abuse access to treatment and recovery support, regardless of ability to pay.”

While they are known for providing financial resources to those in need, A Way Out also provides other much-needed, important services that complement and help fill in the gaps of what other nonprofits and recovery organizations in the Valley are offering. This includes operating at an early level of intervention to help clients gain access to the level of care they need when battling chronic substance abuse disorder, as well as aiding in creating comprehensive treatment plans. 

All services are free and offered in both English and Spanish.

While sending someone to treatment can be life-saving, many of these programs are short term and, Gordon said, “often a 28-day treatment is not enough.” A Way Out stays engaged with their clients’ care for a minimum of a year, which includes case management, clinical involvement, and support groups. Finding community in recovery is paramount, and Gordon explained that the peer support groups offer a chance for alumni to “[go] to fun events and have other people to connect with in their new sober life.”

A Way Out is also committed to supporting families affected by substance abuse. 

They offer open family support groups that meet weekly — an English-speaking group meets on Tuesdays via zoom, and a Spanish-speaking group meets on Wednesdays.

“Anybody with a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse can come to these groups and find other people who are struggling and don’t know what to do,” Gordon said. 

She also explained that when an individual goes to treatment, a family clinician will follow up to provide three to five sessions with family members to help them “learn the language” of what life will look like when their loved one returns home.

Grant funding from local municipalities and counties, as well as from organizations including Rocky Mountain Health Foundation, Colorado Health Foundation, the Aspen Thrift Shop and the Daniels Fund, allows A Way Out to provide all of these services to residents of Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties. Donations are also a source of funding for the organization, and anyone wishing to donate or learn more about their mission and services can visit their website at www.awayout.org

Gordon encourages anyone struggling with substance abuse issues to reach out to A Way Out, as opposed to taking to Google and sifting through overwhelming amounts of information during a time of crisis. “Call A Way Out and have a conversation; whether it’s [with] the client themselves and we can provide a little hope, or a family member and we can provide a little direction.”