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Alumni programs broaden reach for 2019

Oxford Treatment Center is redesigning its programs for alumni in 2019

So that more people can access support and take advantage of free substance free events.The program will shift from frequent small events to less-frequent bigger events, with more advance notice. CEO Mark Sawyer said the change makes sense, given that most alumni do not live in North Mississippi.

“Our patients today come to us from across the country,” Sawyer said. “Our alumni program was initially designed to support people in recovery locally. But our alumni community today is scattered far and wide. We want to give people plenty of time to plan their travels when they’d like to return, and more ways to stay in touch in the meantime.”

We want to give people plenty of time to plan their travels when they’d like to return, and more ways to stay in touch in the meantime.

Weekly alumni meetings at the Oxford Outpatient Center will be replaced with a monthly alumni meeting, slated for the first Friday evening of each month.

Monthly special events are moving to once a quarter. The first special event of 2019 will be a Memphis Grizzlies Basketball Game on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 at 7 p.m. To register for the game, click here.

Additional alumni events for 2019 will include:

Summer: Alumni Softball Game

Fall: Alumni Reunion

Winter: Holiday Party

Alumni programming at Oxford Treatment Center will now be led by an Alumni Support Team. The team will plan events, call alumni to check on them, and be available to respond alumni needs.

The initial team includes Community Relations Representative Brian Whisenant; Clinical Consultant Amy Woodward, CADC; and Resolutions Admissions Coordinator Jake Linton, CPSSP.

“In recovery, having group support is a real asset,” Whisenant said.  “I believe this team is going to be a real advantage to the alumni program.  I am really excited to begin this journey with our alumni and the alumni support team.”

We hope to strengthen the recovery community with and through our alumni.  Meetings will be a time that patients can learn and alumni can give back to the facility that changed their way of life.

To reach out to the Alumni Support Team, call (662) 607-0002 or email

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...

Oxford Treatment Center honors founder of nursing program

 Tammy England reflects on time at Oxford Treatment Center

Oxford Treatment Center’s longtime director of nursing will depart from her position this month.

Tammy England departs from her position as director of nursing this month. England has worked for the Oxford Treatment Center since 2012 in a handful of influential roles, including head of nursing and leading the center’s utilization review team.

Tammy England has served as director of nursing since 2012. A licensed nurse, England has worked in nursing for 28 years, spending the last decade in the addiction-treatment field.

Her experience includes staff development and training, quality initiatives, risk management and electronic medical records.

England was recruited to the Oxford Treatment Center by former CEO Billy Young.

“When Billy reached out to me I was nervous about making the move,” England said. “Looking back, I have had nothing but positive experiences. I have been very privileged to work with wonderful people here. I am so glad I made the leap.”

England’s career in addiction treatment was guided by her own experiences with addiction.

“Addiction is close to my heart. My family’s own fight with addiction has guided my passion for helping others who are struggling with their addiction,” England said.

As England departs from the Oxford Treatment Center she is confident in the team she leaves behind.

I am honored to have contributed to the work being done here.

“I am honored to have contributed to the work being done here,” she said. “I am confident that the staff here will continue to work hard to fight addiction and to work for our patients.”

At the Oxford Treatment Center, England has served as direct supervisor of nursing, supervisor of mental and behavioral health technicians and director of nursing.

She has been instrumental in leading the utilization review team, which advocates patients’ cases to insurance companies in order to receive needed care.

“My first experience working with insurance to get patients the care they need was here and it was probably my most significant undertaking,” England said. “It’s a good feeling when you can successfully advocate for a patient.”

England said the work in addiction treatment is about the daily fight against the disease of addiction. That includes informing others about the true nature of addiction.

“There’s a lot of people in our culture that still think addiction is a choice not a disease,” she said. “Unfortunately, people do not wake up and choose to never use again.”

“That is why having a support system and people dedicated to progressing addiction treatment is important,” England said.

“Addiction is a disease that isolates. It doesn’t allow hope to shine through. When people are in addiction they think the only way they can survive is to take that next drink or next drug.”

Throughout her career in addiction treatment, England said she learned the importance of hope.

Our job is to rebuild hope in our patients- to show them that there is hope outside of addiction.

“Our job is to rebuild hope in our patients- to show them that there is hope outside of addiction,” she said.

“We want to instill the tools they need and build that hope back in them, let them know there are people who genuinely care and want to help them.”




About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...

Passion for recovery frames Ryan Smith’s legacy

Laura Merrill McCaleb, LCSW, Clinical Therapist; Cheryl Smith; Heather Smith; Greg Davis, Equine Therapist.

A year after death, family returns to visit influential therapists

When Ryan Smith was killed in a car accident in 2017, the loss was profound for his family and friends.

Many of them had known someone who’d died from a drug overdose. But how could a young man have worked so hard to build a new clean life — only to lose his life at age 26? It was unfathomable.

Ryan Smith

More than a year later, the grief is still fresh. But those who shared Ryan’s recovery journey are remembering the gratitude that defined the final 10 months of his life.

He was focused each day on finding something to be thankful for.

“He was focused each day on finding something to be thankful for,” said his mother, Cheryl. She and his sister, Heather, visited Oxford Treatment Center this fall to reconnect with the staff who’d helped him overcome opioid addiction.

“He really got a lot out of the program here,” Cheryl said. “He became passionate about staying clean.”

Therapist Laura Merrill McCaleb said that even during treatment Ryan was a steady force of encouragement to those around him.

“When another member of our group was broken and depressed, Ryan sat beside him and said, ‘Here’s what worked for me,’” McCaleb recalled. “He helped everyone see: Yes, being in treatment is hard. But it’s going to get better.”

Ryan came to Oxford Treatment Center after battling addiction for several years. A native of Connecticut, he had always been a big-hearted kid, his family said.

“He was very caring towards other people,” his mother said. “Ryan had a lot of good friends, and friendships meant a lot to him.”

She believes he initially began using painkillers as a way to cope with anxiety and depression. She sent him to counseling, but he didn’t stick with it. He tried a short-term detox, but relapsed within a few days.

Ryan’s addiction progressed, sending his life into a downward spiral. He lost jobs. He totaled his car. When his pain-pill addiction became too expensive to maintain, he switched to heroin. He pawned his mother’s television and heirloom jewelry to get money for more.

The person he became in the midst of addiction is not who he was.

“The person he became in the midst of addiction is not who he was,” said Cheryl, for whom her son’s recovery journals revealed the depth of his struggle.

“He was living in pain because of the addiction,” she said. “He hated himself because of what he was doing, but he couldn’t stop. He didn’t want to use drugs anymore, but going through withdrawals was too much to endure.”

When Ryan’s counselor recommended he go to treatment far from home, Cheryl chose Oxford Treatment Center. Its signature equine therapy program seemed like something her son could benefit from.

In making the decision, she drew a clear line for him: Go to treatment, or find someplace else to live.

“I had to stop enabling him,” she said. “And he was ready: The things he was doing were tearing him apart inside. He said, ‘All right. I’ll go.’”

At Oxford Treatment Center, Ryan proved his mother’s instincts correct. Equine therapy — using horses for learning experiences both in and out off the saddle— became a central focus during his time in treatment.

Equine Therapist Greg Davis recalled how anytime a group member didn’t show up for trail rides, Ryan was always standing by to mount the extra horse. After therapy sessions, he devoted downtime to practicing his newfound roping skills, lassoing a dummy calf over and over.

He was so encouraging — not just to the other patients, but to the therapists, too. I feel like he helped me as much as I helped him.

“Ryan’s enthusiasm in trying new things helped other people become open-minded, too,” Davis said. “He was so encouraging — not just to the other patients, but to the therapists, too. I feel like he helped me as much as I helped him.”

From the riding trail to the ropes course, Ryan began to channel the motto “give 110 percent” — the rallying cry from his old high-school wrestling team. The attitude continued after residential treatment at the Etta campus, as he transitioned into sober living and outpatient programs with Oxford Treatment Center.

Ryan’s therapists and family said he was willing and focused on following guidance about how to move forward in early recovery and avoid relapse. He attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings religiously and called his sponsor each day. Soon, he became an integral part of the local 12-step recovery community.

When the car accident claimed his life, he had been on his way to a recovery meeting to speak about his experience.

Living several states away, Heather Smith had watched her brother’s progress from a distance. She’d only just begun to try to trust him again.

The days and weeks after his death brought a swirling haze of emotions: The shock and grief of sudden loss. Resentment from the pain he’d caused their family during his addiction. Fresh anger, too, that now he would never see the healthy long life she wished for him.

As the fog began to lift, messages from Mississippi were a ray of comfort for the family. In cards and letters and Facebook messages, they heard from people who had been in treatment with Ryan and from others he’d met in NA meetings. They were doing more than praising his kindness: They were giving him credit for helping them stay clean and sober.

“People were writing to us, saying things like ‘He saved my life,’” Heather said. “I was amazed. He had touched so many people.

“I used to look at him and think, ‘Why can’t you get your life together?’ But he became a better person in recovery — better than me. Now I strive to live up to him.”

For Cheryl, who had been a closer witness to Ryan’s early recovery, the messages were a powerful affirmation: The big-hearted, life-loving son she raised had been there all along. Addiction had overshadowed his character, but not erased it. The proof was abundant.

“I couldn’t imagine going through this if he had been using drugs and died that way,” she said. “Knowing the impact he had in recovery is what gets us through.”

The family has since established the Ryan D. Smith Memorial Fund and hosted fundraising events, bringing in more than $10,000. The funds are being used to provide scholarships for students in Ryan’s high-school wrestling program. The family is also using funds to enhance the equine-therapy program at Oxford Treatment Center and to provide sober-living care packages for people working to find their own recovery.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...

Oxford Treatment named designated CE provider for social workers

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S, leads a continuing education conference attended by over 80 counselors, therapists and social workers from across North Mississippi.


Programs serve mental-health professionals across region

Oxford Treatment Center is advancing its clinical excellence programming, as an official provider of continuing education programs for social workers in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Board of Examiners for Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists approved the center as a Designated Provider in October. The achievement comes after a yearlong effort to build a robust CE program that serves mental-health professionals in North Mississippi and beyond.

“Professionals who work in mental health and behavioral health have devoted their careers to helping others,” said Mark Sawyer, CEO of Oxford Treatment Center. “We are very pleased to be able to provide quality training, not only for our own clinical staff but also for providers throughout the region.”

Oxford Treatment Center is based in Lafayette County and provides a complete continuum of care for drug and alcohol addiction. Its staff of clinical therapists includes counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. Each is required to obtain CE credits to maintain licensure.

Brian Whisenant, community relations representative.

Among some two dozen designated providers for social work in Mississippi, only a quarter are located in the northern half of the state.

The effort to create CE programming at Oxford Treatment Center has been led by Brian Whisenant, community relations representative. The center’s Continuing Education Advisory Planning Committee included Richard Balkin, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, a Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Mississippi; Jeannie Falkner, LCSW, Ph.D., Mental Health Counseling Core Faculty, Walden University; Marc Showalter, Ph.D., LPC, Clinical Assistant Professor of Leadership & Counselor Education, University of Mississippi; and Larry Wills, LPC, M.Div., Clinical Outpatient Therapist at Oxford Treatment Center.

Suzy Bird Gulliver, Ph.D., Founder and Director, Warriors Research Institute at Baylor Scott & White Health; Professor, Texas A&M Health Science Center, presented a 6-hour CE on September 20 at the Oxford Outpatient Center.

“The need for local continuing-education opportunities is something we heard often from the mental-health community,” Whisenant said. “Our advisors provided the guidance for programs that would be interesting and practical for mental-health professionals, while also meeting CE criteria. We’re excited to continue building on this strong foundation as we plan for next year.”

Oxford Treatment Center debuted its Professional Development Series at the beginning of 2018. It has so far offered four conferences for a total of 18 CE hours for social workers and counselors. Presenters included both local and national experts. All 2018 CE events have been free-of-charge for mental health professionals.

The final event in the 2018 series is set for Dec. 4. “Finding Peace: Accepting Grief and Loss Through the Holidays” will include presentations by Dean Worsham, M.Ed., LPC, LMFT, of Oxford Counseling Center; and Meaghan O’Connor, M.Ed., NCC, CCTP, and Daniel Winkler, LADAC-c, ACCT II-CCM, CET, both of Oxford Treatment Center. Registration for the 5 credit hours CE program is now open.

While each previous CE program has achieved approval as a stand-alone event, becoming a designated provider will allow Oxford Treatment Center greater flexibility in planning CE events.

The center is also seeking designated provider status for CE programming for Licensed Professional Counselors and for Marriage and Family Therapists.

Oxford Treatment Center also serves as the North Mississippi training site for the Mississippi Addiction Counselor Training (MACT) program, through which professionals can work toward becoming Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors (CADC).

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...

New executive chef brings global experience

French-trained chef once cooked for king of Morocco

Moulay Elabdellaoui

Oxford Treatment Center’s new executive chef is bringing a world of culinary experience to the rural North Mississippi campus.

Moulay Elabdellaoui, originally from Casablanca, Morocco, brings more than 20 years of experience as an executive chef — including as chef to King Hassan II of Morocco.

He trained at the Arts and Culinary Institute of Nice, France, and the College of Culinary Arts in Casablanca, Morocco. He is also experienced in the cuisines of Asia, Russia, Germany and South America.

Elabdellaoui said he is looking forward to incorporating diverse cuisine into the menu at Oxford Treatment Center. At the same time, he said, his goal is creating meals to please.

Especially when you are battling addiction, the last thing you need is to feel like you did not enjoy your meal.

“Everyone here is from different backgrounds, different cities where cuisines vary. I think it is important to make something that everyone can enjoy.”

Since joining Oxford Treatment Center in September, Elabdellaoui has also focused on making the center’s dining room even more warm and welcoming. Flowers and fruit bowls now decorate the space, while the walls feature artwork created in the center’s art-therapy sessions.

“I want to make the dining area a place of peace,” he said. “Walking in and seeing your art on the wall can be encouraging. Especially for people in recovery, having a space that encourages and welcomes them is important.”

Elabdellaoui came to Oxford Treatment Center from Lancer Hospitality in Memphis where he was executive chef for over five years. Prior to that, he was food and beverage director for Harlow’s Casino.

Elabdellaoui said he was drawn to Oxford Treatment Center for the ability to help others.

“People here are going through a lot,” he said. “I wanted to do something where I can help others succeed in life.”

A frequent volunteer chef at homeless shelters, Elabdellaoui said his top priority is serving those around him.

“Right now it is all about helping others for me, and this is a great position to do that,” he said. “It’s really a team effort here — from the landscapers to the psychiatrists. Even those of us who are not on the clinical team get to see the way patients progress after detox. It is very rewarding.”

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...

Alum Advocates for Heroin Addicts’ Recovery

Morse’s efforts include training families to use Narcan

Several days after her first overdose, Bethany Morse opened her eyes in a California hospital room.

Out of a coma, she climbed slowly into consciousness. Her lungs resumed their load, shedding the ventilator’s support. Her brain shook off the threat of permanent damage.

Yet as her family gathered around her bedside, Morse’s first thought was not, “Thank God I lived.”

Please, her every heartbeat seemed to pound. Please, please let me out of here so I can go find more heroin.

“It’s like being possessed by a demon,” Morse says five years later, looking back from the perspective of recovery. “I’d thrown away my entire existence for a drug.”

A graduate of Oxford Treatment Center, Morse now fights to help others reclaim their lives from heroin addiction. She is among four panelists sharing their frontline perspectives at the Aug. 19 event “The Heroin Epidemic: Lives Worth Saving” in Memphis. Her work as an advocate in region includes training people to use Narcan™ (naloxone), the lifesaving antidote for opiate overdose.


Narcan is not about enabling drug addicts,” she says. “We can go to treatment and recover, and go out and be productive members of society. But we have to be alive and breathing to do that.


Morse traces her own history with addiction to her youth. Raised in a good home, she was active and successful in school and sports. But as soon as she began experimenting with alcohol, she noticed she tended to drink more and faster than her peers.

“I knew I was an alcoholic, even though I didn’t know the term for it at the time,” she said. “My friends would say, ‘Bethany, slow down.’ Afterward, I would make promises to myself about not drinking like that — only to soon find myself doing the same thing again.”

She also began using marijuana before age 13, embracing the relief it offered from her chronic anxiety.

At 15, Morse found herself on probation for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. She was in and out of rehabs for the next few years, and dropped out of school. But by 21, she had gone back to earn her high school diploma and felt her life stabilizing for the first time.

“I had gotten into college and started going to school and working full time,” she said. “Then the guy I had been with for a long time called me and said, ‘I’m in love with someone else.’ That was devastating.”

Morse sought comfort at the home of a neighbor whom she knew was struggling with addiction to heroin. Drunk and depressed, she wanted to try it, too.

“Sticking a needle in my arm was the one thing I’d never done and said I never would do,” she said. “The guy told me before I did it: ‘You know your life’s about to change. There’s no going back.’ I said, ‘Whatever.’ I didn’t care.

“When I tried heroin that day, I literally fell to my knees and said, ‘I’ve found God.’ I knew I’d found the answer to all my problems. This was not going to be an every-now-and-then thing for me. I was instantly an everyday user. Looking back, it was the worst decision I could ever have made.”

For the next five years, Morse chased her addiction — even as she tried to run from it — along a twisted path from California to New York to Florida.

Everywhere she went, she ended up either in jail or in the hospital for an overdose.

At last, homeless and strung out on the streets of South Carolina, she called her mother for money, again. This time, the answer was no.

“She used to say, ‘I’ll give you money for a bus ticket back,’” Morse recalled. “But this time, she said, ‘You got your own self there. You can find your own way back.’ I know saying that had to kill her. But every time I came back, nothing changed. She was tired of enabling me.”

Morse wanted to quit, but wasn’t willing to fully surrender to a recovery program based on abstinence. She opted instead for replacement therapy with prescriptions for Suboxone and Subutex. The birth of her son in 2012 solidified her resolve to overcome addiction, yet stumbling blocks remained.

“Any time I was clean, I was still going to smoke pot,” she said. “I never made the connection that it always led me back to something else. I refused to make that connection, because I was going to have some sort of relief. How did people go through life without some kind of relief at the end of the day?”

women going to therapy and treatment

Morse began finding new answers to that question when she checked into Oxford Treatment Center. She spent two weeks in the medical detox under physicians’ and nurses’ care.

“I’d been so physically dependent on Subutex for two and a half years, and my body was in so much pain,” she said. “At the same time, I was relieved: I wasn’t going to have to use drugs anymore. I became that person in rehab who is actually excited to be there.”

At Oxford Treatment Center, Morse’s time with therapists and in group sessions unlocked her understanding of how traumatic experiences in her past had helped fuel her anxiety and draw her into substance abuse.

“I swear I physically felt lighter,” she said. “It was like somehow everything’s brighter there at the center. They told me, ‘It’s called peace, Bethany.’”

Feeling confident about the progress she had made, Morse went home after residential treatment. She worked on making changes in her life based on all she’d learned. The transition, though, was harder than she’d expected.

“I ended up getting lonely, and I wasn’t doing what I needed to do,” she said. “I know a geographical change isn’t a cure — but it damn sure helps if you’ve lived in the same place all your life and that is where you started using.”

Morse relapsed about three months after treatment, and her drug use was worse than ever. Ultimately, her parents drew the line: Go to a long-term recovery program, they told her, or you will lose your child for your addiction.

She returned to Oxford Treatment Center for a shorter detox and transitioned into a long-term recovery program for women and children in Nashville. There, she advocated at the state capitol for the end of a law that threatened mothers with jail time when their babies were born addicted.

Today, Morse volunteers with the nonprofit Tennessee Overdose Prevention to train people and distribute Narcan kits to those who have a loved one addicted to heroin or another opiate. She is back in college and working toward a degree in social work.

“My goal was always to work at Oxford Treatment Center and counsel alcoholics and addicts,” she said. “I had no intention of doing policy work and research. But I’ve found that I like it: We can make a difference together.”

Morse also serves among administrators for the Facebook page “Memphis War on Heroin.” In that role, she’s been able to help people who reach out through the page during a crisis.

“People will contact me eight months later and say, ‘I can’t thank you enough for saving my life,’” she said. “I have to say: ‘You and your Higher Power did that. I just stayed up all night talking you through it.’”

For Morse, sharing her experience publicly at “The Heroin Epidemic: Lives Worth Saving” serves a double purpose: Both to encourage families suffering from addiction that they are not alone, and to open the eyes of families who think they are beyond risk.

“Part of spreading awareness is addressing the whole ‘not my child’ syndrome,” she said. “Yeah, your child, too. And it’s very important that you can recognize it for the sake of early intervention. It may save your kid’s life.”

Morse said that despite the very real national crisis of opiate overdose deaths, the most important message is one of hope.

“There is life after addiction,” she said. “Good people become drug addicts. We are worth investing in — to provide us with treatment, even to give us multiple shots at getting help. We do recover and become people who in turn help others.”

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thous...