Donna Edmonds proudly shows a visitor around her Orange County apartment. There is a playpen full of toys, a wall calendar listing lots of healthy activities, a coffee table with neat piles of inspirational books, and certificates for the completion of various classes.
Most prominent are framed photos of Billy, her happy 10-month-old son.
"He's my validation," Edmonds said. "Every time he smiles and laughs he lets me know I'm doing a good job as a mother."
Edmonds, 33, has not always been able to provide such a positive report. Her drug use was so severe that she had seven surgeries on her arm related to infections from contaminated needles. Doctors considered amputating her right arm. She was pregnant with Billy while in Alamance County jail on drug charges.
"When I got out and went to the health department for a checkup, I met Connie," Edmonds said. "I told her I needed to learn to live outside of prison and without a man and to be a parent.
"Connie said, 'I can help with all those.' She and Horizons have been the answer to my prayers."
Connie is Connie Renz, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of Horizons since its inception in 1993. A component of the UNC School of Medicine, Horizons teaches women with addictions the skills to re-build their lives.
"We remove barriers to health care by integrating medical and mental health care with substance abuse treatment," said Dr. Heather Rogers, who provides psychiatric evaluations and ongoing treatment. "The women are able to get treatment for acute and chronic medical issues that were neglected while they were actively using."
Renz cites Horizons' special attention to the children of its clients. "Next to our Carrboro office, we have an on-site 5-star (the highest rated) child care for children aged 0-5. Almost all of them have speech and language delays, but we have many resources and professionals to serve these children."
Debby Stanford, a nurse-midwife, staffs the program's OB-Gyn clinic for pregnant and post-partum women conducted within UNC Hospitals.
"With our women, time is so limited for their developing baby," she said. "When they're pregnant it's critical to identify areas of need to decrease the baby's exposure to substance abuse. ... (The women) get to see the same person and attend more frequent prenatal visits -- about every other week -- than usual. Every woman I meet wants to have a healthy baby."
Horizons' residential program provides stability that clients have rarely experienced. A woman is considered to have successfully completed the one-year residential component when she has achieved several goals, including achieving sobriety for one year, having a job, a new place to stay, a bank account, appropriate child care, and a network of support (a 12-step sponsor or support group).
Aside from children's services and access to the OB-Gyn clinic, clients receive several levels of outpatient treatment, including individual counseling, relapse prevention groups, family sessions, and half-day and full-day outpatient treatment. Ms. Edmonds, who will be in her Horizons apartment until January 28, 2009, took classes in food and nutrition, healthy relationships, and job readiness. She received coaching in money management and has put money into an account for Billy.
The state of North Carolina has increasingly required service providers to use "evidence-based" programs, that is, those whose results have been tested to be consistently effective. Examples of such curricula in Horizons support groups include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and "Seeking Safety", which integrates substance abuse and trauma issues.
State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird is familiar with Horizons from her earlier work, as an attorney for Prisoner Legal Services, with custody and visitation issues.
"We in state government are looking at model programs like this one that effectively give hope and much more to women who are struggling," she said. "These women should be treated, not put in prison."
Edmonds lost custody of Billy to the Alamance County Department of Social Services just 10 days after his birth. She was allowed to take him to the Horizons residential program, however, and, because of her progress, recently regained full custody. She's still working and attending Horizons groups.
"I'm ashamed of what I did, but not of who I am," she said. "I put my heart and soul into everything that the Horizons staff asks me to do. Once I got a taste of recovery, getting high was never the same."
Peter Kramer works in the customer service department of the OPC Area Program. He can be reached at 913-4120.