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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind.– Organizers in Bartholomew County hope a new resource for substance abuse recovery will help bounce back from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress, or ASAP, just opened its first “sober living” house in Columbus’ Lincoln-Central neighborhood.

“We like to call it sober, because that’s what it is,” said ASAP Program Director, Cheryl Buffo. “Free of illicit drugs and alcohol and they also are committed to their recovery journey.”

The home is for men who have struggled with substance abuse issues and want to take their lives on a different path. It’s recommended that the men live in the house for at least six months. However, a year is preferable, Buffo said.

The opening follows months of planning and is made possibly by community donations and a $33,000 grant from Indianapolis-based Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative, or RALI.

Men in the house are required to abide by a nightly curfew, hold down a regular job, undergo several random drug and alcohol screenings per week, and attend seven recovery meetings per week.

By following those guidelines, the men are given safe and sober housing, employment support and guidance on achieving financial independence.

“We’re also making a commitment to you, so if you’re going to sign up to do all the things that you’re saying, then we’re going to be here to walk alongside you,” Buffo said.

The opening comes at a time when local coroners are reporting an increasing number of drug overdose deaths. In Bartholomew County, there have been 23 confirmed overdose deaths as of August 31, 2020. The county saw 24 overdose deaths through all of 2019.

While 2020 has been tough on everyone, ASAP Executive Director Doug Leonard says it’s been even harder on those struggling with addiction.

“The COVID pandemic, I think, hit them especially hard,” Leonard said. “Because if they had a job, it’s probably gone. If they had a house, they might have been kicked out.”

The pandemic forced many shelters and treatment centers to close or limit their services for people in substance abuse recovery. Leonard hopes the opening of the sober living house will be one part of the effort to recover from the pandemic’s effects.

“So they’re not having to go back to the very neighborhood or the very house where they got into trouble and the bad inputs are still there,” he said.

Still, even the sober house opening is being limited by COVID-19. While the house is designed to house 9 men, only 4 are currently being housed.

“We’re going to have one person per room to kind of keep them semi quarantined,” Buffo said.

Even with lingering limitations ASAP has plans to open four more sober living homes for men and three for women in the near future. You can learn more about the ASAP Sober Living program on their website.