Link House opens outpatient addiction center in Amesbury

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoLink House Inc. has opened a location at Boston North Technology Park in Amesbury. From left, Jennifer Kay, clinician; Kate Dodge, clinic coordinator; Christine Turner, director of ambulatory services; Cara Blake, clinician; and Gary Gastman, executive director.

AMESBURY — Link House Inc. entered its newest phase Thursday when it opened the Center for Behavioral Health and Addiction Treatment Services at Boston North Technology Park.

Executive Director Gary Gastman said the new outpatient services complement Link House's four residential addiction treatment centers that now house 105 clients.

"This is our first new program in 18 years," he said. "So we are going from our brick-and-mortar services to an outpatient service, which is something that no one has been doing in the past. There is a gap and an obvious need. The Amesbury Psychological Center certainly does a good job supporting those needs, but I think they are at capacity and there is a need for more services."

The Center for Behavioral Health and Addiction Treatment Services is open to anyone who needs it, according to Gastman.

"This is adding to and complementing the services we have been providing for the past 48 years," Gastman said. "This is for anyone in the community that needs outpatient addiction services, whether that be therapy, family education or medication management."

He said the demand has increased "for better or worse. There is more anxiety going on in the general society. Ten years ago, if people were struggling with addiction, their family wouldn't talk about it. Now, you can go to someone's house at a dinner party and they are very open about it as if they had heart disease."

Alcohol and drug abuse counselor Christine Turner has worked in the addiction field for more than 20 years and said the opioid crisis has taken a great toll.

"People are much more aware of the problem now ever since the young, white college students got involved with opiates and we started seeing them die," she said. "Unfortunately, it took that for us to look at it a little bit differently. When I first started, I could probably say that everyone you talked to knew someone who had a problem with drugs or alcohol. I think now, we are seeing everyone who knows somebody who has died from drugs. The problem is huge."

Although the opioid crisis has taken its toll in lives, the sheer size of it has also decreased the social stigma tied to addiction, according to Turner.

"Everybody knows somebody and it is often the people that you don't suspect," Turner said. "It can touch anyone and everyone is much more aware of that than they ever were."

She said helping people is the center's top priority.

"There is no wrong door by picking up the phone and calling here," Turner said. "We will make sure that you get the help that you need."

Traditional outpatient services will include individual and group therapy sessions, family education and consultation, and psychiatric treatment.

"A lot of our work can now be more community based," Gastman said. "Medical detoxification is also beginning to start outside of inpatient facilities. You also have people who are working their way through their addiction and also have high-level jobs, or any job, and they need services that complement their ability to go to work and not just stay in a building."

Turner said she hopes that society is headed toward treating addiction like any other disease.

"Part of our mission and our job is to educate people," Turner said. "That stigma of, 'Why can't you just pull yourself together?' I think comes from a lack of knowledge about what this is all about."

Gastman said he expects the new facility to serve about 400 clients over the next two years.

"We are anticipating an operating loss for the next two years of running the service," Gastman said. "That is where our commitment to the community is right now."

He said Link House will look for partnerships for donations or charitable contributions to help offset that operating deficit.

Gastman also said the new facility saw its first client Wednesday. The site is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon. All forms of MassHealth insurance are accepted.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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