NHL legend, doctor and dog help drug addicts find hope

August 19, 2022 — Among hockey fans, Kevin Stevens is a legend. A member of several teams, including the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, the 57-year-old was best known for being a Pittsburgh Penguin during the team’s Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

But the Bostonian is also a recovering drug addict whose life changed dramatically when he was 28 and made “a bad decision” one night.

“I had never done drugs in my life, but someone put cocaine in front of me,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was, but I tried it and it changed my life for the next 24 years.”

Stevens fought a long and often highly publicized battle for sobriety with many challenges along the way, including an opioid addiction due to a serious hockey injury (as well as continued cocaine use) and an arrest. for trafficking oxycodone in 2016.

When he pleaded guilty in 2017, he vowed to turn his life around. Since then, he has dedicated his life to helping others through Power Forward, a non-profit organization he started in 2018 that focuses on addiction awareness.

Bring the dogs

Today, Stevens, who currently works as a National Hockey League (NHL) scout, and one of his board members, Michael Hamrock, MD, a primary care and addiction medicine physician at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston, have introduced a unique method of healing. to the list of offerings for people in convalescence.

Called the DOER (Dog Ownership Enhancing Recovery) program, a trained support dog — in this case, a golden retriever named Sawyer — will be sent to live with 12 men living in a sober house in the Boston area, in a program that is the first of its kind in the United States

“Throughout my entire practice, my patients have told me time and time again how much their pet dogs have improved their physical and mental health, so I thought we should add that to one of our offerings,” says Hamrock. “I know it will help.”

The day Sawyer was introduced to residents as part of a pilot program was a joyous one, Hamrock says.

“We brought Sawyer out into the yard and, while he was on a leash, he went to check on each resident individually,” he says. “They started petting him and playing with him. I could see the immense joy in their eyes.

The goal: Add more dogs to the program over time.

“I believe that meetings, medication, spiritual care and having a sponsor help with recovery,” he says. “But dogs can provide safety, prevent loneliness, help you mend relationships, help you find purpose and worth, and offer unconditional love.”

And with overdose deaths in the United States hitting record highs last year, Hamrock says now is the time to keep innovating.

“We know the risk factors for heart disease, but we need a better understanding of the brain disease of addiction,” he says, noting that the acronym GAMES offers a good way to quantify the five risk factors. : G (genes), A (the age of first drug use), M (treated or untreated mental health problems), E (exposure to opioids as a treatment, for example, for chronic pain) and S ( stress, especially due to adverse events during childhood) is a good way to quantify risk factors.

But a well-trained dog can mitigate some of these factors.

“We know dogs can reduce stress and improve mental health,” he says. “We also know companion dogs can help with accountability, create a caring environment, and fill the nurturing void. You really see a difference. »

Ask Stevens and he’ll tell you he’s excited about how service dogs could play a role in helping drug addicts stay in recovery.

“I think what Michael is doing is pretty neat,” he says. “When he put this idea on the table, it made sense. Dogs are so good to people and they are that bright spot in your day. Giving these residents the opportunity to take care of something will make all the difference .

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