A recently formed non-profit organization is trying to change the way addiction is treated in South County. Nurses in Rhode Island (NRI), incorporated in May of this year, believes the path to wellness consists of highly individualized consideration and treatment, as well as the elimination of the stigma surrounding addiction. In order to see this vision to fruition, NRI President Timothy Aurelio is attempting to pair those suffering from addiction to a form of treatment specific to their individual case and experience, as well as hosting public seminars to help educate the public on the nature of addiction and the effects such a disease can have on the individual.

“We are a non-profit organization that is here to help Rhode Island residents suffering under the weight of the opioid epidemic find treatment,” Aurelio said in a phone interview. “We are also aiming to erase the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues by educating the public and outreaching.”

As a registered nurse dealing in the areas of addiction and mental wellness himself, Aurelio has begun attending schools, public forums, radio stations and other outlets to help get the message across.

“By doing these seminars and educating the public, that’s the only way we’re going to eliminate the stigma, by choosing the words that we use,” he explained. “Instead of saying, ‘hey, that person is a drug addict,’ maybe we could say instead, ‘hey, that person is experiencing addiction right now.’ How we choose to phrase things can go a long way.”

As an example of the stigma, Aurelio mentions that a lot of time, loved ones or friends could turn their backs on someone suffering from addiction due to the increasingly poor decisions of that individual in order to fuel or fund his/her disease.

“Those behaviors, the lying, the stealing and the cheating, those are all symptoms of a person’s active disease,” he said. “Once they are in recovery, those symptoms hopefully, and usually, disappear.”

NRI also has a direct line the public can call to receive a free, confidential analysis of their addiction on an individualized basis at 1-800-264-3752. The non-profit puts a stress on the individual, listening to specific experiences and making recommendations based on factors including past attempts at treatment, the substance in question and how long the individual has been addicted for. The organization also provides referrals to primary care, women’s health, smoking cessation, nutritional support and more.

“We believe there’s no right way to get sober. One person may have been using heroin for 25 years, they may have relapsed 50 times and they’ve tried going to Narcotics Anonymous, to Alcoholics Anonymous, they’ve tried the 12-step program, they’ve tried counseling, you know, maybe it’s time for them to start on medicated assisted treatment, that may be an option and we have all those resources on our website, as well as with our experienced nurses, to educate folks what their best course of action to be successful would be,” said Aurelio. “Then you have the other end of the spectrum, where someone has maybe tried the medical assistance over and over to no avail, and now maybe it’s time to try counseling.”

“As with any other illness, there’s so many variables that treatment can depend on,” he continued. “That’s where that confidential analysis comes in, where we’re going to guide them to where we feel they would be successful with staying clean and sober.”

Aurelio believes this is what separates NRI from other organizations, whereas others promote their own programs, NRI matches an individual up with a program that suits them best.

“We’re not favoring any one type of program, whether it’s 12-step or residential or a halfway house,” Aurelio said. “There’s so many options and we’re helping to decide the best route for the individual.”

NRI currently has three registered nurses on staff and a trained recovery coach, although the organization is accepting volunteers every day. The non-profit mostly focuses on South County for the time being, but has resources all over the state.  

As a case manager for Westerly’s Journey to Whole Health and Healing, Aurelio has been on the front lines of the war against addiction for the past three and a half years.

“I have a book in alphabetical order of resources I’ve accumulated over the years,” he said. “And that’s how I’m going to help people find qualified providers that I know. We’re not just picking a name out of a phonebook and saying ‘here you go.’ These are people that I’ve been working with very closely over the past three and a half years and I know they have a successful track record.”

To learn more, the public is encouraged to visit NRI’s website at . NRI is also on Facebook at  and on Twitter, @nursesinrhodeisland.

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