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This former addict is helping a new center treat teenage boys' opioid abuse
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Avery Nix, marketing coordinator at Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents, speaks during an interview in Dahlonega on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

The broken arm from a skateboard accident, the first hit of morphine or Oxycontin.

As Avery Nix works as the lead outreach for a new recovery center targeting substance abuse in adolescent boys, he has pondered how his own story may have changed.

“When this came up, that was one of the first things that came to my head was: I wonder what this would have looked like if I was 16, 17 years old. I wonder what could have happened if I found something like this. Could it alter the course? Would it have broken up the cycle a little earlier?” Nix asked.

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Various signs hang on trees around a campfire at Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents in Dahlonega on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Nix, who has shared his recovery journey with the Partnership for a Drug Free Hall and was featured in The Times’ podcast “Back to Life,” is now working as the marketing coordinator for the Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents in Dahlonega.

Eagle Overlook Recovery became operational in September and held its grand opening Oct. 12.

On more than 50 acres nestled just over the Hall County line, it’s a no-cellphone, no-distraction residential center for boys ages 13-17. Nix said the primary focus is substance abuse disorders while specializing in co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety.

While his business card says marketing, Nix will also be able to lend a hand with the boys who enroll in the program.

“One really cool aspect about working with adolescents is that I am able to reach them on a level of ‘I know exactly where you’re coming from.’ I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar issues,” Nix said.

Nix’s story started at 12 when he broke his arm and the rush he got from the morphine. At 15, that same rush came from his first dose of Oxycontin, a brand name of the opioid oxycodone.

Years later, he would be revived after multiple hits of naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. Nix’s family was told he wouldn’t survive.

Now approaching his fourth year clean, Nix still has a hand in the newly minted Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, named after the Gainesville man who died in 2012.

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Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents is a new treatment center in Dahlonega on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“Avery is a wonderful addition to Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents, not only as our marketing coordinator, but as an inspiration to adolescents who are just beginning their recovery process,” said Eagle Overlook Recovery’s clinical director Cindy Armstrong. “He models our philosophy, and his enthusiasm, warmth and personal story will help others in their recovery journey.”

With an in-house chef cooking three times a day and an activity room holding a ping-pong table and cornhole boards, the summer-camp feel belies the rigid structure for those in the program.

“A typical day consists of study time, group therapy, psychoeducation, structured or expressive activities, and relapse prevention classes. Individual counseling, introduction to self-help groups, recreational activities, and appointments with the medical director are also part of the schedule,” according to the treatment center’s website.

And of course, no cellphones. Nix said the strategy is letting go of distractions and learning again how to disconnect and have fun.

Nix recalled his teenage years spent trying to keep up with his peers.

“I was creating an identity crisis with myself, and I never could meet the mark. That’s where a lot of my insecurities came into play, because I had this vision of what I thought things should be … which is what I saw online,” he said.

Regarding the choice for only boys, Nix said the statistics show male adolescents reporting a higher rate of substance abuse than their female counterparts.

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Talon Lodge will house teenage boys at Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents in Dahlonega on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations published survey results in 2015 showing 10.7 percent of boys 12 and up reported substance dependence or abuse compared to 5.7 percent of girls in that age range.

“We recognize that there is not a lot of female adolescent resources, so that’s why we’re trying to make the steps moving forward to be able to provide that resource for the female population,” Nix said.

The intended length of stay is between four to six weeks, though it is on an individual basis. 

The ideal ratio, Nix said, for counselor to adolescents is 1:8.

Most of the participants will be in rooms for two to avoid a feeling of isolation, while the staff has heavy security and monitoring procedures in place.

Though the participants do take part in some activities away from the secluded center, the property also offers hiking trails leading up to the Chestatee River.

“I’ll speak for myself and a lot of adolescents that I’ve come into contact with. For me, recovery had to be attractive in the beginning. I had to gather enough information and I had to be able to see that recovery worked well for you. I had to know that my life wasn’t just going to be over because I got sober,” Nix said.