Bartholomew County and Columbus officials want to do something about the local opiate addiction epidemic, but a local group engaged in dialogue about community issues says the problem is no one wants to pay for it.
About 40 people gathered Thursday for a Sustained Community Dialogue conversation at the Doug Otto United Way Center to hear Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers talk about the county’s problems with drug abuse, the effect on law enforcement and the jail, and possible treatment programs.
“We all want to provide the therapy, but nobody wants to pay a few extra dollars in taxes to pay for it,” moderator Merry Carmichael said.
For several years, Bartholomew County Council members have only heard from anti-tax advocates who often voice opinions loudly and — at times — with a degree of intimidation, Bartholomew County Assessor Lew Wilson said.
“They need to hear from others who say we have to take care of the drug problem,” Wilson said. “If they get enough noise from other areas, they will tend to listen more and possible reverse themselves.”
On Thursday, Myers said the jail population had reached 212 inmates — the highest it has been in five years, although still short of the 249-inmate capacity.
More than 90 percent of those inmates have some form of drug addiction, and jail officials anticipate the problem will get worse, Myers said.
“Crime call volumes keep going up, and the calls we respond to are getting more serious,” Myers said.
When inmates are released, those who are recovering addicts enter a world where many employers refuse to hire them, which threatens their sobriety, Myers said.
For example, a skilled electrician in his mid-20s cannot land a job because his record shows a conviction for possession of marijuana, said Linda Schadenfroh of the Columbus Homeless Dependency and Resiliency Program.
Former inmates also find they have lost support from the state, including food stamps and other assistance, said Maj. Chris Lane, Myers’ chief deputy.
“The majority are good people who just made a mistake,” Myers said. “But we loophole them. We don’t even give them an opportunity.”
The jail does have a new program for negligent or drug-addicted fathers who are incarcerated, the Providing Opportunities for Parental Success (POPS) program provided through Centerstone, which provides community-based behavioral health care.
Started on a limited basis last July, the five-year POPS program provides support and services to help fathers engage with their children and family, program coach Ryan Reno told the dialogue group.
Funded through a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the POPS program is now being ramped up for more widespread use in Brown, Lawrence, Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties, as well as Bartholomew, Reno said.
Each Wednesday, coaches meet with incarcerated fathers to address their problems from a behavioral perspective, Reno said. In group meetings, the coaches use role playing, instruction and group activities to help change negative thinking patterns about their role as a parent, he said.
The POPS program is targeted specifically to fathers because they have a family who depend on them to be a provider, Schadenfroh said.
The program is driven by where each of the fathers want to go with their lives, Centerstone program coach Kayla Shine said.
“Our model is to build up their strengths, instead of looking at their deficits,” Shine said.
While the educational program offers a variety of services in recovery, peer support and employment, the POPS program was not designed to address substance abuse specifically, Reno said.
The jail also has a 90-day Recovery Works program to help drug addicts prepare to re-enter society, Myers said.
But the sheriff also said he does not have the space or manpower to run the program effectively.
Due to a staff storage, participants in the Recovery Works program cannot be housed apart from other inmates, which is an essential part of their therapy, the sheriff said.
After the inmates are released, the large number of drug users in the community often try to lure the newly released inmate back to addiction, jail minister Sevy Badgley said.
Badgely, along with others in the community, are in the beginning stages of trying to create a halfway house in Columbus specifically for these former inmates.
An announcement will soon be made about the group’s first meeting in May at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, she said.
Asking for compassion
“Without compassion and a willingness to be supportive of people who have made mistakes, (addicts) can’t make it,” said Phil Stewart of the Kettering Foundation. “There are too many people around them trying to drag them back down.”
But Stewart also urged those planning to engage in activism to remember the issue carries real political risks for elected leaders.
“We need to have compassion all around,” Stewart said.
Although a number of groups are attempting to address the opioid problem on different levels, event co-moderator Jeff Bradley said the creation of an inpatient residential drug-treatment center has long been acknowledged as being needed in Columbus.
Many groups, including Centerstone and the Salvation Army, have attempted to launch a facility open to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, Bradley said.
“But those who have tried keep getting shot down,” Bradley said. “I’ve known we’ve need this for four years. How many have been screaming about it before me?”
Such a facility will be an essential part of a smooth system necessary to give addicts a path to long-lasting recovery, Thrive Alliance Executive Director Mark Lindenlaub said.
But Myers said steps are now falling into place that he believes will address all aspects of the opiate-addiction problem.
He specifically mentioned the Substance Abuse Crisis Community Response Initiative formed through Columbus’ Healthy Communities coalition and led by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop and Columbus Regional Health President and CEO Jim Bickel.
Myers expressed faith in the abilities of Cummins retiree Jeff Jones, who became the initiative’s executive director April 3 and is now working as a volunteer from an office in Columbus City Hall.
“In the next six months to two years, I think you’ll see us get our act together on the heroin issue,” Myers said.
The Sustained Community Dialogue, an ongoing series from the Inter-Faith Forum of Columbus, is held monthly to identify obstacles and create opportunities to help economically challenged residents achieve self-sufficiency.
What: Moving the Needle: Community Forum
Featuring: Sam Quinones, author and journalist, talking about his book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” and Dr. Kendall Stewart, a psychiatrist from Portsmouth, Ohio
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus
How much: Free and open to the public