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An NHL legend, a doctor and a dog help addicts find hope

Aug. 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 especially known for being a Pittsburgh Penguin during the team’s 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup championships.

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

“I had never used 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 waged a long and often highly publicized battle for sobriety with many challenges along the way, including an opioid addiction due to a massive hockey injury (as well as continuing to use cocaine) and a 2016 oxycodone trafficking arrest.

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 nonprofit organization he started in 2018 that focuses on raising awareness of addiction.

bring the dogs

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

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 home in the Boston area, in a program that is the first of its kind in the US

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

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

“We brought Sawyer out to the backyard and, on a leash, he approached each resident individually,” he says. “They started patting him and playing with him. I could see the tremendous delight in his eyes.”

The goal: to add more dogs to the program, over time.

“I think meetings, medications, spiritual care and having a sponsor help with recovery,” he says. “But dogs can provide security, prevent loneliness, help you restore relationships, help you find purpose and value, and offer unconditional love.”

And with overdose deaths in the US reaching record levels last year, Hamrock says now is the time to continue to innovate.

“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 (age of first drug use), M (treated or untreated mental health problems), E (exposure to opioids as a treatment for, say, chronic pain), and S (stress, especially from adverse events in childhood) is a good way to quantify risk factors

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

“We know that dogs can reduce stress and improve mental health,” he says. “We also know that pet dogs can help with responsibility, create a loving environment and fill the parenting gap. We can really see a difference.”

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

“I think what Michael is doing is pretty good,” he says. “When he brought this idea to the table, it made sense. Dogs are great around people and are that bright spot in your day. Offering these residents the opportunity to care for something will make a difference.”

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