Often when people meet Robyn Hantelman, it is on one of the worst days of their lives.
Hantelman, a Recovery Coordinator with Goochland Powhatan Community Services (GPCS), works with those facing the scourge of opioid addiction, offering them a path forward after the disease has ravaged their lives. Working closely with a team of mental health professionals, Hantelman often slips into people’s lives immediately following a crisis of some kind, such as an overdose, and assists in helping them craft a path to recovery.
“What we are seeing is the fact that people just don’t know where to go,” says Hantelman, who describes her role with GPCS as one in which she tries to “meet people where they are.” Sometimes that means helping someone connect immediately with recovery services. Other times it may involve providing a person struggling with addiction access to harm-reduction tools such as Naloxone — used to treat overdose emergencies and often referred to by the brand name Narcan — or test strips that will tell them if the drugs they are using contain fentanyl, an often deadly additive. She tells people that she isn’t there to get them in trouble or force them into recovery, she is simply there to help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has quadrupled since 1999, and over 70 percent of the 70,630 overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid. Many of the deaths since 2013 have involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Through Hantelman’s work with the Rural Overdose and Outreach Team (ROOT) project, a collaborative effort between GPCS and the Powhatan-based Emergency Services Solutions, she sees scores of people for whom opioid addiction has become a virtual prison.
And regardless of where she meets them, or where they are in their journey, Hantelman arrives with the understanding that many addicts are desperately to reclaim their lives.
“People do want recovery,” she explains. “They just don’t know how to start.”
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If Hantelman seems particularly sensitive to the plight of people facing opioid addiction, it is because she knows their struggle first-hand.
Now over three years into her own recovery journey, Hantelman first encountered opioid drugs the way so many others have: in a doctor’s office.
Prescribed powerful medication after a string of health issues, Hantelman says she found herself reeling when doctors — watching the opioid crisis beginning to unfold — would no longer prescribe her the drugs. The former cheerleader and National Honor Society student, now caught in the grip of addiction, would soon see her life begin spiraling out of control.
As Hantelman puts it, she was on the brink of losing nearly everything — including her marriage and her son — when she finally found her path to recovery.
Because Hantelman is a recovering addict herself, she is intimately familiar with the other side of the addiction battle: she doesn’t just help other addicts to embrace the daily challenges of recovery, she lives in the space herself.
Several years ago, she made the decision to become a Peer Recovery Specialist, a role that requires state certification and makes use of the life experiences of those recovering from addiction and those who have struggled with mental health challenges. Now she is one of only around 800 such specialists in the state, and the only one currently working for GPCS.
Asked if she had any concerns that becoming a Peer Recovery Specialist would pose a threat to her own recovery — the work can be emotionally draining, after all —Hantelman admits that she did at first.
“It’s a balancing act,” she says, but also a challenge she feels called to take on. “We keep what we gain in recovery by giving it away. Doing this work—it helps me too.”
For more information about services available at the Community Services Board, including Recovery Supports, please contact the CSB at (804) 556-5400 and ask for Robyn Hantelman.
Goochland Powhatan Community Services (GPCS) Crisis/Emergency Services are available to anyone experiencing a mental health crisis in Goochland or Powhatan counties 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling (804) 556-3716. The CSB also offers a Same-Day Access Unit to help individuals start mental health or drug and alcohol treatment services, as well as to assist individuals in times of mental health crisis. Other services specific to substance use disorder provided at GPCS include Outpatient Therapy, Case Management, and Psychiatric Medication Management.