Columbus is preparing to work with one of the leading treatment centers in the country to find a local solution to a widespread opioid-addiction epidemic.

A new coalition to address the opioid-addiction crisis through Healthy Communities, an initiative based at Columbus Regional Health, is considering seeking guidance and resources from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation near Minneapolis.

The connection between the city’s efforts and Hazelden came out of volunteer work that former Columbus Regional Hospital President John McGinty was doing with St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

Church staff members struggled to find treatment options for individuals who asked for help from the church, he said.

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Working as a consultant for the church and working closely with the Rev. Mark Teike for the past four years, McGinty said he observed that the church was struggling and experiencing a great deal of frustration over its efforts to help families mired in the aftermath of drug and alcohol abuse.

Some of the people seeking help from the church staff were from the congregation, but many of them weren’t, McGinty said.

“We didn’t have any local options,” McGinty said. “And we were becoming frustrated because we weren’t able to help people.”

McGinty and Teike, the church’s senior pastor, also began working with retired Columbus attorney Charles Wells to research what options might serve Columbus and Bartholomew County residents suffering from addiction.

McGinty described Hazelden’s addiction treatment as the gold standard in addiction care, and he and Wells traveled to Minnesota last fall to visit the center along with other Columbus residents. They spent three days reviewing specifically what is being done in opioid-addiction treatment.

Wells then attended a program near Cincinnati, sponsored through Hazelden, and researched what the Covington, Kentucky, community had been doing for the past two years to respond to opioid abuse.

They then took their research to Healthy Communities late last year, he said.

“This isn’t unique to one congregation,” McGinty said of efforts at St. Peter’s to research how to help people mired in addiction. “This affects our entire social structure of our community. And it was a call to action as Healthy Communities has identified mental health, specifically addiction services, as a high-priority health issue for the community.”

Wells said he became involved in researching how Columbus could respond to the opioid-abuse problem after working as a public defender and seeing what was going on in the criminal justice system.

“It was broken,” he said of the system that takes drug abusers into a cycle of arrest, conviction, sentencing, probation and relapse. “It was a merry-go-round.”

While St. Peter’s has an outpatient program to help recovering addicts, Wells said the city and surrounding region needs more options — including an inpatient treatment center, drug courts geared toward rehabilitating addicts and a system that helps recovering addicts restore their lives.

Wells is looking to find a hospital system that would partner with their efforts to have an inpatient program, that would care for those who could pay, and those who could not.

Drug courts are different than regular court in that offenders who go through the system are locked into a program that requires treatment, counseling and help in the event of relapse. The ultimate goal of a drug court is to rehabilitate individuals so they can overcome their addiction, stay straight, get their children back, obtain employment and move on with their lives, Wells said.

“It makes people feel like they are wanted,” Wells said of a drug court. “Not that they are throw-aways.”

Wells is also interested in finding a community partner willing to donate used buses to provide transportation for recovering addicts who need rides to work. Also needed is temporary housing so recovering addicts can change their environment, he said.

Wells said he hopes to find a partnership with a local staffing agency that would be willing to help recovering addicts find jobs.

“I’m trying to figure out what we’ve got, what we need and how we’re going to go about getting it,” Wells said.

He believes consulting with Hazelden and its Core 12 program for inpatient treatment of opiate addiction is vital to the local region’s success in dealing with the addiction epidemic.

Widening the discussion

A kick-off event to shine a light on the effect of opioid abuse has been set for 6:30 p.m. April 19 at The Commons.“Moving the Needle: Community Forum” will feature a talk by Sam Quinones, an author and journalist who wrote “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” and information from psychiatrist Dr. Kendall Stewart.

The book “Dreamland” chronicles the struggles of Portsmouth, a southern Ohio blue-collar city of about 20,000 that struggled with the effects of opioid addiction in the aftermath of unregulated prescription drug availability in the 1990s during Purdue Pharma’s campaign to sell OxyContin.

The book’s title refers to Portsmouth’s project to build a swimming pool the size of a football field, which the city named Dreamland. It describes how the opioid crisis affected Portsmouth and how the community dug its way out of the epidemic of overdoses and addiction.

In addition to the community forum featuring Quinones, conversations are underway to bring Hazelden representatives to Columbus as consultants to offer specific recommendations about how Bartholomew County, and the 10-county regional area surrounding it, could respond to the epidemic of opioid overdoses, McGinty said.

Mobilization event

Kaylene McElfresh, a Hazelden senior business innovations manager, has been working with McGinty and Wells on future strategy for the community, along with Beth Morris, who leads Healthy Communities.Hazelden is offering what is specifically known as a heroin and prescription painkiller toolkit to the community, which includes a community mobilization effort that starts the planning process, McElfresh said.

The local community mobilization session will come later, McElfresh said, as the April date is too soon to get everything organized.

Partnering with Healthy Communities, Hazelden’s community mobilization event involves inviting as many local community stakeholders as possible into a meeting to share how the opioid epidemic is affecting each agency and service provider.

Stakeholders who will be invited include law enforcement, emergency medical technicians, emergency room physicians, the public health department and school corporations.

As many as 200 people have attended some of the mobilization events Hazelden has had in the past in other communities around the nation, including several in Kentucky, she said.

“People come together, and speak from their perspective as to what they are seeing,” McElfresh said.

Then, Hazelden asks stakeholders to look at the resources currently available, and provides information from a toolkit on what kinds of resources might be needed to help close the gaps in service areas.

Participants at the meeting are asked to come up with three things that can be done the next day to help combat the epidemic, she said. One example that happened at a recent mobilization was that a faith-based organization decided to immediately begin hosting a 12-step recovery program at its building.

“A lot of people don’t know the depth of the problem. They simply don’t know what to do,” and it’s revealed in the mobilization session, McElfresh said.

After talking with McGinty, Wells and Morris, McElfresh said it became immediately apparent that Columbus does not currently have the resources needed to deal with the epidemic of opioid overdoses the community is experiencing.

“You have to build those resources,” she said, noting that Wells has been particularly effective in reaching out and making connections in the Columbus community that will be beneficial in building support and service connections in the future.

A national need

Although Columbus does not have an inpatient treatment center for opioid treatment, McElfresh said it would not be uncommon for a city the size of Columbus to have inpatient care. However, right now there aren’t enough inpatient care treatment centers across the whole country, not just in Columbus, she said.And while Columbus does have outpatient options through Centerstone, and faith-based programs such as Celebrate Recovery, part of the issue is that relapses are common, and treatment needs to evolve to address that problem, she said.

Celebrate Recovery, offered through St. Peter’s Lutheran and Community Church of Columbus, had had some success with its support sessions and counseling for people recovering from addiction, said Teike, who also mentioned church volunteers doing a jail ministry with female addicts as another outreach the church has created.

While Centerstone and St. Peter’s offer outpatient assistance, Teike said he finds it shocking that Columbus does not have an inpatient treatment option.

“Columbus, Indiana can accomplish anything it wants to do. We have the finances and we have the people. The question is how much of a priority rescuing people from death caused by drugs and alcohol is to us.”

Hazelden offers medication-assisted treatment, with a 12-step program as the base of the system, McElfresh said. This represents a culture shift for most treatment facilities, something the organization is working to implement around the country with communities that use Hazelden as a consultant, she said.

Hazelden’s data shows it works and saves lives.

Hazelden works with an 18-month recovery process, much longer than many models for inpatient treatment offer.

As the planning comes together for a possible community mobilization event with Hazelden, Teike said it’s time for the Columbus community to bring the major players in the epidemic response together to form a plan.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Our community needs to own this. On the front end, what can we do to prevent addiction? I’ve done funerals for people who have died because of drug issues. We have a whole lot of people who are dying.”

'Dreamland' book discussion

What: A community book discussion about the book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St.

Moderator: Nichole J. Vreeland, Healthy Communities

Community forum

What: Moving the Needle: Community Forum

Featuring: Sam Quinones, journalist and author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” and Dr. Kendall Stewart, psychiatrist

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 19

Where: The Commons, downtown Columbus

How much: Free

Community resources

Centerstone

What: Outpatient or partial hospitalization mental health facility

Address: 720 N. Marr Road

Offers: Programs for individuals with mental health and substance-abuse disorders

Information: 812-348-7449 or visit https://centerstone.org/

Celebrate Recovery

What: Faith-based 12 Steps and 8 Recovery Principles program to help individuals work through issues with alcohol, drugs, pornography, food addictions, gambling and unhealthy relationships.

  • 9 a.m. Mondays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St., co-ed meeting for adults; 1 hour in length, no child care available.
  • 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road; two specialized groups for men and women, child care available
  • 11 a.m. Wednesdays, women-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; no child care available
  • 12:15 p.m. Wednesdays, men-only group at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; no child care available
  • 11 a.m. Fridays, Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St.; co-ed meeting for adults, about one hour, no child care available.

No registration necessary.

Information: 812-348-6257 or visit cccolumbus.org/communitychurch/celebrate_recovery

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Intensive Outpatient Program

What: Evidence-based 16-week outpatient treatment program for addiction to alcohol, drugs or prescription medication. Includes therapy, recovery, relapse prevention, family education, social support and drug testing, includes group therapy and 12-Step programming. Fees based on ability to pay, has contacts with Community Corrections and county probation department for the Recovery Works program.

Where: 719 Fifth St.

To learn more: http://stpeterscolumbus.org/ministries/life-works

Note: St. Peter’s also offers Celebrate Recovery sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, and you do not need to be a member of the church to attend. For more information, visit stpeters-columbus.org.

Free Indeed Addictions Ministry

What: Faith-based addiction ministry offering support group meetings and programming.

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays for food and fellowship in the Who So Ever Will Community Church Fellowship Hall, 623 Eisenhower Drive, Edinburgh

Information: Pastor Lewis Burton, 812-350-7026

Coming Monday

Today’s report is the first day in a two-day series.

COMING MONDAY: Members of the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council explain how opioid abuse has taken a grip on the community and what can be done to help people struggling with drug abuse regain normal lives after addiction.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.