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Local fight against heroin addiction may use new strategy PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, July 02, 2014 8:16 PM


DHI Media Editor

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VAN WERT — Each week, a serious problem is highlighted in the Van Wert County Court of Common Pleas. That problem is heroin addiction. Van Wert County is not alone in dealing with this issue as most counties throughout Ohio struggle with the effects of heroin addiction. But county officials are gearing up to offer new hope for breaking a heroin addiction.

The key tool could be a drug called Vivitrol. This medication is to block the effects of opiate drugs. It is administered with a monthly injection.

“It takes away the person’s craving for opiates,” noted Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles D. Steele. “But it’s only part of the treatment program, because you still have to change your way of thinking. These people hang around with people who take that, and if the opiates don’t work, they’ll turn to alcohol, and cocaine, and meth, and that kind of stuff. Even if this takes away the heroin craving, you still need to address the way they make choices.”

Vivitrol is available to persons on Medicaid, and court and probation staff have been letting offenders know about this for several months, urging them to sign up for aid that can be used for this drug and treatment program.

The program has been under consideration locally and officials have wanted to begin such a program, but have waited on state input. On Monday, Steele and nine others from Van Wert County were part of a team attending Ohio’s Judicial Symposium on Opiate Addiction in Columbus. This day-long event was presented by the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team, and Office of Criminal Justice Services and was hosted by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.

The event included remarks from Governor John R. Kasich, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“We’re done ignoring the drug addicted and the mentally ill in this state. We’re not going to save them all, but in the course of trying to save one person at a time, we not only change the world, we change ourselves,” Gov. Kasich said.

“Unintended deaths from opiate overdoses are approaching a problem that is nearly double the number of highway fatalities,” Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor told the more than 800 in attendance. “I am convinced that with the collective wisdom and will of those who are gathered here today, we will develop effective strategies that will reverse the trend.”

Statistics provided by the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction show that Van Wert County’s incarceration rate is only 24.7 per 10,000 persons which is in the lowest third of Ohio counties. However incarcerated persons who were convicted of drug offenses is 36.4 percent which is among the highest third of counties in the state. Bruce Showalter of the Van Wert County Adult Probation Office estimated that of the approximately 200 persons that office is watching, around 100, or 50 percent, were involved in drug cases. He went on to point out that drugs are the motivating force in other cases with charges like theft and burglary. Showalter believes that around 80 percent of those being supervised have drug issues. Officials are hopeful that a Vivitrol program will help people who really have the desire to get off drugs.

“With the expansion of Medicaid, we’re getting a lot of our people signed up for it,” Steele confirmed. “They are eligible, but they didn’t realize they were eligible. And Medicaid will pay for Vivitrol and for the treatment at Westwood or wherever else we send them. Plus through Medicaid, Vivitrol comes at a lot lower price than other counties are getting it. So we have a way to fund it now that we didn’t have before.”

Not only will the new program use Vivitrol, but also a more intense counseling program. Rather than one or two sessions a week, program participants could attend counseling sessions five times per week. Enforcement and monitoring will be a big part of the program as well. The program coordinator will closely monitor the participants to see if they attend counseling as required, if they take drugs, and if they do positive things to change their lives.

“That’s a lot of the issue,” Steele noted. “A lot of people go through the WORTH Center or community control and do well, but when they get home, they hang out with the people they used to hang out with, and they get right back to the same bad habits again. Sometimes they get high the night they get home and can’t last 24 hours.”

A similar project in six Ohio counties, including Mercer and Allen counties, uses a “drug court” which Steele said he is not necessarily sold on since those counties put relatively few persons through the program due to its time-intensive structure.

Steele related, “From their studies, about a third of those people aren’t interested in any rehabilitation, they’d rather keep going along until something bad happens. About a third of them are thinking about it, and about a third of them have decided they want to get clean, but they just can’t do it. So we’re going to try to concentrate on that third. So we’d be looking at between 30 and 60. But most drug courts only have 20 to 30 people in there. And they spend a lot of time and money on those people. That’s good for those 20 to 30 people, but my question is what about the other 100 people? I want to find a way to that more inclusive.”

Showalter and Steele say they are hoping a Van Wert County anti-heroin addiction program can be in place by the end of the summer. They agreed that Monday’s symposium offered some great information on opiate-addiction treatment options and input from other counties and the state about helping those addicted to get help. Those from Van Wert County attending were: Common Pleas Judge Charles D. Steele, Juvenile Court Judge Kevin Taylor, Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman, Dillon Staas of the Public Defender’s office, Eva J. Yarger of the Van Wert County Prosecutor’s Office, Mark Westwood Behavioral Health Director Mark Spieles, Pastor Paul Hamrick of Celebrate Recovery, Chief Probation Officer Bruce Showalter, Detective Adam Clark of the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office, and County Commissioner Stan Owens.


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