Featured Leader Healthcare Mental Health

Featured Leader Q&A: Fresh Start CEO, Jeff Claughton


Substance addiction is often seen as a bad thing that destroys lives, and is interpreted as something that is impossible to get over. Victims who struggle with this are seen as weaker members of society, when in reality, addiction is just as much an illness as the others are. And like all other illnesses, addiction can be solved with the help of the proper programs, such as Fresh Start.

Fresh Start is a rehabilitation program that focuses on sobriety and the help of a community to get those who struggle back on their feet and regain their lives. CEO Jeff Claughton took a moment to answer some questions that the Healthcare Channel had, as well as shared his insights on destigmatizing AOD addiction.

HCC: Fresh Start is a good initiative to help clear up misconceptions regarding substance addiction. What sparked the conversation for you? What are Fresh Start’s roots?

Jeff: The public perception of addiction is very narrow and very negative. The assumption that addiction is linked with crime and is a result of a moral deficit or character weakness is something Fresh Start hopes to change. We see it as a medical issue, not a moral failing, and our approach is evidence-based medical and psychosocial intervention.

“People with addictions not only feel shamed by society, but they commonly internalise this shame and this can be a barrier to them seeking treatment.”

Fresh Start grew out of a commitment to help drug users and their families recover from drug dependence in Perth, Western Australia. Founder Dr George O’Neil performed his first drug addiction treatment in 1997. Dr O’Neil was motivated to help the community with its addiction problems while working as an obstetrician. He would deliver babies to mothers addicted to heroin or methadone and see their babies born with the addiction who subsequently suffer through withdrawals in the nursery. While initially starting with just one private patient, more and more patients were arriving after hearing about Dr O’Neil through word of mouth. As demand for the treatment grew Dr O’Neil set up a clinic which eventually grew into Fresh Start.

HCC: Substance addiction is often misunderstood. Why do you think people underestimate how far it can go?

Jeff: Not everyone is susceptible to addiction, and although there are contributing factors such as family history, an addicted family member, trauma and early exposure to alcohol and drugs, it is difficult to predict who will become dependent on substances which lead to an addiction. Recreational use of drugs, particularly alcohol, is largely accepted in society but for some people the pleasurable effects can be quickly replaced by the need to use these substances to prevent the stress and anxiety that occurs when not using. Nobody intends to become an addict and once the cravings and consumption become overwhelming, th3e changes in brain chemistry mean people need significant intervention to overcome addiction.

HCC: Battling addiction is a difficult feat. What is Fresh Start’s approach like to helping people who wish to recover?

Jeff: The Fresh Start program focuses on sobriety – the complete cessation of alcohol and other drug use and establishing a long-term drug-free lifestyle. Our approach is an initial medical detoxification and then ongoing long-term support through counselling and psychological services, safe housing, healthy relationships, education and employment.

HCC: AOD addiction can affect any age group. Does the program’s approach differ when it comes to helping a recovering young adult to a recovering adult in their 40s?

Jeff: Each person who seeks our help is unique and hence their treatment and recovery program is individualised to give them the support they need and the very best chance of success. We see similar issues with people of different ages and also a wide variety of life circumstances that have led to their addiction and their desire to seek help.

Some have recent addictions and many have been struggling with addiction for decades. The differences we see in age groups is mainly around the number of family and friends in their support network, or complete lack of support, and also their goals for their future and their current priorities.

HCC: There is a stigma that comes with the word “rehab”. What advice can you give families of people who struggle with AOD addiction?

Jeff: Whilst a person with addiction can impact their friends and families in negative ways, in many cases destroying relationships, addiction is a treatable medical condition and there is support available for those who wish to overcome their addiction. It is a lengthy and difficult process for everyone and maintaining sobriety is a life-long challenge.

Fresh Start provides a comprehensive support system, including the Northam Recovery Program, a fully accredited residential program in regional WA where residents benefit from counselling, group therapy, medical management, psychological and psychiatric consultations and learn skills in repairing relationships, receive education and training opportunities and can access services at any time after they have graduated the program and returned to the community.

“Rehabilitation is vital to returning people to their families and is the path out of addiction.”

Jeff: Family members or friends can seek help from Fresh Start by contacting us for information and advice on how to approach the issue with their loved one. We can offer to speak with or see the person with addiction to give them the information they need and answer any questions and there is no pressure for them to proceed.


Note: Content has been edited for style and length.

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Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.


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