HALLOWELL — Elaina George said she took much from the community when she was abusing prescription drugs and alcohol.

Now that she’s clean and sober, she wants to give back.

George, a former nurse and recovering addict, led the effort for the new drug recovery house in Hallowell at 138 Town Farm Road. The Oxford House admitted its first residents Aug. 1, and George hopes to have all eight slots filled by the end of the year.

Some neighbors expressed concerns about the house to the city’s Planning Board and City Council, but the house is considered a single-family dwelling by the Federal Fair Housing Act and is protected from any zoning restrictions or ordinances.

During the Planning Board’s meeting in July, Larry Davis, who lives a few houses away on Town Farm Road, said he was concerned about the lack of oversight from the Oxford House organization and what the city would do in the future if a similar facility wanted to move into Hallowell.

George said any fears or concerns are misguided.

“The last few weeks have been amazing,” George said last week during a tour of the Hallowell sober house. The five-bedroom, three-story home can accommodate eight residents, men only, and features a combination of single and double rooms. Residents contribute $150 per week toward maintaining the house, which is self-governed by residents in accordance with Oxford House’s rules and regulations.

Measuring success in a sober house isn’t hard, George said, and ultimate success would be the house having to close because there was no longer a need for what it provides.

In reality, George said, “success for us would be that someone has reintegrated into society, has stayed sober and has achieved what they had before and beyond.”

One of the residents in the new Oxford House, Andrew Rice, said the area needs these types of facilities because so many recovery centers don’t offer transitional recovery, so people end up graduating from a program and then going right back to the streets.

“I’m grateful that Elaina has put the work in and given me an opportunity to have a safe place to go to flourish in my recovery,” Rice said. “Someday maybe I can give back to the community in the same way she has.”

GROWING ADDICTION

George, 32, of Sidney, graduated from Messalonskee High School in 2001 and enlisted several years later in the Army, where she was first prescribed Vicodin for an injury to one of her eardrums. After leaving the Army, George enrolled at the University of Maine at Augusta and completed a two-year nursing degree in 2008.

While working as a nurse at Sheepscot Valley Health Center, George found a way to falsify her own medical records and obtain prescriptions for oxycodone. She was fired from that job for obtaining the prescriptions under false pretenses.

George worked at Kindred Transitional Care & Rehab in Augusta, where she admitted to the Maine State Board of Nursing in 2013 that she diverted oxycodone from the facility for about 18 months, taking five or six pills per shift while also buying pills on the street. She said she was taking 10 to 30 milligrams of oxycodone a day at that time.

“My drug addiction looked different than most people who take drugs and are then unable to function,” George said. “I couldn’t function without them. I was a functioning addict.”

George’s addiction continued after the birth of her son, Alex, in September 2011. She had a cesarean section and was prescribed Vicodin, because she didn’t disclose any history with abuse to her doctors after the procedure.

“It blew up again after that,” George said. “I couldn’t feed my addiction enough and was spending at least $1,000 a week buying pills on the street.”

She said she was using her entire nursing paycheck for pills.

Her battle with prescription opiate addiction came to a head when she entered a rehabilitation facility in January 2013 and graduated from two programs in March and April of that year. She’s been clean from prescription drug use for three years.

She voluntarily surrendered her nursing license in July 2013 after a lengthy review by the board of nursing. In the document, George admitted to falsifying records, printing prescriptions and then deleting the files and diverting medication. She signed a five-year monitoring agreement with the Medical Professionals Health Program that runs through 2018.

George, who works as a case manager at a local homeless shelter, said had she not had access to the pills as a nurse, she would have found them somewhere else. She doesn’t regret going into nursing, and she wants to give back to the nursing community.

“My old advisers want me to come back and speak to nursing students about the dangers of it,” George said. “(Access to pills) was too easy, and I didn’t identify it, so I want to share that.”

ALCOHOL FILLS VOID

Though she stopped using prescription opiates in 2013, George still had a problem with alcohol – and the law. She was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault in 2012 and for violating a condition of release in March 2013. She was pulled over and arrested for operating under the influence in February 2013, her second drunken driving arrest since turning 18.

George was given a three-year suspended sentence, two years of probation and a $400 fine stemming from being arrested and charged with acquiring drugs by deception in July 2010. Her last run-in with the law was last August, when she was arrested for violating a condition of release.

She said she hit rock bottom with alcohol last August, when she disappeared and stopped seeing her family. George was sick and didn’t want her son to see what alcoholism had done to her. She was living on a farm with someone else who had an alcohol problem, so she didn’t think she had any problems.

“My parents called my probation officer that day because nobody knew where I was,” George said. “It was 4 p.m. and I was heading to Margarita’s in Augusta when they found me. I was walking and talking but blew a 0.38,” she said, referring to a breath test for alcohol.

George said most women her size – 5-foot-2 – would die once their blood-alcohol level reached 0.40, so she probably would have died of alcohol poisoning that night had police not picked her up.

George’s father, John, said they worked hard to find out where she was because he thought she might have been in violation of her probation. Her parents got help from the sheriff’s office to locate her.

“I was going to die an alcoholic’s death,” she said. “That night I was sitting in jail when I decided I would do anything to change my life.”

Once she got out of jail, George got involved with the Maryland-based Oxford House organization, spending several months in a house in Portland. She celebrated her one-year anniversary of sobriety last Wednesday.

“Going into the house in Portland was a very positive step because it enabled her to be independent and responsible,” John George said. “She was in a good environment with other women working to be sober.”

George said her recovery never will be complete because it’s something one works on daily. She doesn’t have cravings for alcohol and doesn’t struggle, but rather she has an awareness that she has a disease that she needs to handle.

“I can’t just have a glass of wine, because it would turn into a bottle, and then I’d be going to a liquor store,” she said. “With everything I’ve been through, those cravings have been erased.”

Margie Taylor, also a former nurse and recovering addict, has known George for several months and is the president of one of Portland’s Oxford Houses. She said part of being a nurse is about taking care of people and giving back, so she’s not surprised George has dedicated so much time to the Oxford House in Hallowell.

“It’s not a house that she’s going to be directly benefiting from, but what it is providing her is a means to be helpful and show there’s a better life out there,” Taylor said. “It’s selfish not to use the tools we’ve been given in recovery to help the greater good.”

George has been invited to attend Oxford House’s annual convention next month in Dallas, and said she’s already spoken with Augusta Mayor David Rollins about putting an Oxford House in the capital city.

“I want to continue to bring the Oxford House concept to areas in need around central Maine,” George said, “because Oxford House showed me how to live again and I want to share that with others who need help.”