Sea Change Has New Home, Ever-Expanding Vision / The Sandpaper / November 9, 2023

By Victoria Ford

The Sea Change Recovery Community Organization has announced its new physical office space on the second floor of the Abbey Insurance building at 1 Cedar St. on the corner of Route 9 in Barnegat.

Currently, founder and CEO Elizabeth Beaty is awaiting news on a grant she’s in the running for that would allow her to staff the office at regular hours, but for now anyone looking for help or needing services is encouraged to call or text Beaty at 609-241-2630, and she or a volunteer will meet there to open the door. Or start the conversation by emailing [email protected]. Sea Change currently has “about 15 amazing volunteers,” she said, almost all certified peer recovery specialists.

Through an agreement with the building owners Herbert McGee and his daughter Erin McGee, who is president of the Sea Change Board of Directors, the organization moved in gradually this summer. While services are delivered in the cozy old rooms upstairs, Sea Change has been gently letting the neighborhood know “the help is here.”

The organization shared on its website: “The late beloved Herbert McGee’s legacy will continue to live on through this wonderful gesture, and his spirit and sense of humor will inspire us as we move forward.”

The location is convenient to an NJ Transit bus stop, a benefit to those who rely on public transportation. Accessibility and convenience mean local and out-of-town residents can get support. A couple of homeless kids periodically stop by to use the shower, Beaty noted.

Prior to having a home with walls, Sea Change used community centers and libraries as meeting places and drove (and still does drive) to meet people wherever they are.

“A lot of it’s been on wheels,” Beaty said. “People are scared to come in; they’re more comfortable at a pizza place. Nobody trusts; they’re all traumatized. So, it’s whatever’s the easiest, gentlest way. No demands on my part.”

Meetings will continue at the community centers and elsewhere.

Wherever possible, barriers have been removed, Beaty explained, because she wants to keep the organization small and approachable – a safe, supportive, judgment-free place for people who use drugs, or have questions of any kind surrounding their own or a friend or loved one’s drug use.

Sea Change runs regular All-Recovery Harm Reduction group meetings for people who use drugs or take medication, or have stopped or are curious about stopping, or who practice abstinence. A handful of regulars. No labels. Occasionally a MAT (medication-assisted treatment) clinic will bring folks, Beaty added. The nearest methadone site to users in Southern Ocean County is the Lacey Treatment Center.

But in Barnegat, Sea Change is a New Jersey Department of Health “hot spot” for harm reduction supplies, including fentanyl testing kits, hygiene kits (including bandages and alcohol wipes) and weather kits comprised of ponchos, socks and emergency blankets. Naloxone kits are available in both intramuscular and nasal spray administration methods, with instruction offered as needed. Everything is free. If someone wants case management (checked on weekly), that’s also doable.

“The big news now is xylazine,” Beaty said. As a street drug, the synthetic horse tranquilizer xylazine is potentially deadly and does not respond to naloxone (brand name Narcan). Most fentanyl now has xylazine in it. When someone overdoses, it’s not always clear from what, she explained. So, the new protocol is to start with rescue breaths before administering naloxone. Always give naloxone, she said, because it will reverse any fentanyl in the drug supply, but “it won’t hurt anybody.”

The key to surviving a xylazine overdose is to continue rescue breaths until emergency help arrives. The New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition website has training videos.

The intramuscular shot of naloxone, in an arm, leg or buttock, tends to cause a less violent reaction upon waking up, she added, whereas the nasal spray can cause a person to revive aggressively.

Fentanyl, meanwhile, is in many other street drugs. The days of pure heroin are long gone, Beaty noted. As a liquid or powder, fentanyl produces a high similar to heroin and became an accessible, plentiful alternative for the market.

Sea Change is a partner with the New Jersey Organizing Project on the Not One More Campaign to end the overdose crisis. One way they’re doing that is by fighting a fentanyl crackdown bill in Trenton that would reduce arrestable quantities and lengthen sentences.

But criminalizing drugs is a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole, Beaty explained. As fentanyl laws become tougher, xylazine becomes more prevalent.

“It’s never going to end until drugs are legal and regulated,” she said, “because people are always going to get high.”

Sea Change is also working with a Rutgers University graduate student researcher in a fentanyl impact study, Beaty said. The study looks at people who have been arrested for opioid possession in the last two years and follows their stories, gathering information about their quantities and interactions with police, so activists can take that information to the legislators and “prove that arresting drug users is basically inhumane when it’s a public health issue,” according to Beaty.

With the data, they can say to lawmakers, “See? Law enforcement is not only going after dealers and kingpins. You’re putting away people’s kids, people who are sick and suffering, people who are using the amount they need to get by.”

“The biggest problem I’m seeing,” Beaty said, “is an unwillingness to accept the fact that kids are always going to use drugs.

“People are always going to use drugs. When are we going to make them safe? When are we going to regulate them, so they’re not deadly? They want to criminalize it, make it shameful, but that is the root of the problem: a lack of acceptance and compassion.

“But this is never going to stop. When has there ever been a time in human existence (when people didn’t use substances)?”

The trouble, as Beaty sees it, is the same society that says drinking is a requirement to be “cool” and “social” also places shame on anyone who admits to having a drinking problem, as though “once it becomes a problem, that’s your fault.”

Recovery, for some people, is using safely.

But in American culture, she continued, “we do not teach people how to listen to their bodies and let them unravel (their usage) and figure it out, without putting dogma around it. We don’t let them get in touch with ‘This is too much, this is the right amount.’ We don’t teach bodily autonomy. We don’t teach ‘Think for yourself.’ We don’t teach ‘Listen to your body.’”

The important thing to remember about others’ paths to acceptance is “People don’t know what they don’t know.”

Many people have grown up from day one believing drugs are bad and drug users should be arrested, she said. Yet, the fact is some opiate users find cannabis to be a helpful harm reduction tool/ method and don’t feel welcome in 12-step programs. And while Sea Change does not disparage any recovery choice, the organization embraces people who would rather think for themselves and define their own path because they deserve to recover, too.

Broader acceptance might lead one to consider, to the everyday drug user, how is the use of any substance, legal or not, different from the ounces of coffee, milligrams of an antidepressant, nicotine, or glasses of wine a person uses to get through a day?

“My job is to keep people alive,” Beaty said, “to be a safe place. I don’t tell them what their next step needs to be.”

Check the Sea Change calendar at opens in a new windowseachangerco.org for upcoming pop-up events and recurring activities. Open mic, arts and crafts, running clubs, and wellness channels such as reiki and sound bowls are among the offerings.

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