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Florida health center Recovery Unplugged uses music to help fight addiction

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Addiction has taken an immeasurable toll on millions of American families. Over the past several years, there has been a sharp increase in drug overdoses deaths in the midst of a growing opioid epidemic. Experts and public officials have tried to determine who is responsible and what can be done.

The Trump administration declared the crisis a "national public health emergency" in 2017.

A number of states have passed bills to fight the epidemic in their own states. Florida Gov. Rick Scott did just that this past spring, in a state that has seen over a dozen people killed each day by opioids alone.

Other organizations are creatively trying to combat the crisis and the disease of addiction in different ways.

Paul Pellinger is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Recovery Unplugged, an addiction treatment center in Florida that has several locations around the US. He recently spoke to ABC News about how the center employs music to help those combatting addiction.

Pellinger is a certified counselor and has been working to fight addiction since 1989. He believes many professionals experience difficulty helping their clients understand their own emotions and the underlying issues that may have led to their addiction. He has found music helps create a safe space for clients to identify with others and discover their emotions. The hope is this personal discovery will help them develop empathy for themselves and their journeys as they work to combat their disease.

Since the center opened six years ago, Recovery Unplugged has used music to help engage clients with "existing evidence-based [mental health treatment] models."

Pellinger discussed one client, who he picked up shortly after the person completed a prison sentence. He was not comfortable opening up to Pellinger, but once he heard Marshall Tucker Band's Can't You See started playing on the radio in their car, his demeanor changed:

"This was one of the last songs I remember hearing before I went to prison," he told me.... Then he broke down crying. ‘This song became a catalyst for emotion with him,’ I remember thinking. I could have spent hours with this guy, asking good, open-ended questions like I was taught to do as a clinician and never got him to emote like a three minute song could. So I realized then, 'There's got to be a way to harness this."

Pellinger now incorporates music and song lyrics into sessions with clients. Recovery Unplugged will introduce clients to positive songs about recovery or addiction, with the goal of creating a sense of empathy and understanding to show their clients they are not alone in their recovery and there is hope.

“My goal was to establish a rapport with the clients, break down their defenses, help them learn new perceptions... and I realized that's what music can do,” says Pellinger.

Long term, Recovery Unplugged hopes to "break the cycle of addiction for decades to come." Pellinger believes, in the short term, the center will "save lives through the power of this new music approach."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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