As we near the end of the year, let’s take a look at what we have accomplished in the past twelve months. Many people may be curious to learn that the initiative to reduce opioid addiction really only started recently with our White County United Way.
The White County United Way has always worked to strengthen community and maintain the quality of life of all people in White County, through financial stability, health, and education. Our local United Way takes the pulse of local problems seeking to bring innovative solutions to address them. Research shows that successful programs for instituting change evolve from community need and grow from the bottom-up through resources and interest, and eventually develop into a strategic, collaborative effort.
To this end, in April of 2018, the White County United Way met with stakeholders from the community to gauge the level of interest and investment in bringing an AmeriCorps member in the United Against Opioid Abuse initiative to White County. The group included representatives from local courts, police, sheriff, fire and city offices. All agreed that this program might benefit the community.
In September 2018, an AmeriCorps member was hired and began working. The first phase of the work was to gather community input about what had been done in the past, how the community viewed the problem, and possible solutions. Community conversations and assessments were held with the fire department, social agencies, school counselors, inmates in the county jail, ministerial association as well as other individuals involved in dealing with the substance abuse crisis in White County. In all, more than seventy individuals in twenty agencies were involved in these conversations.
In the first quarter of 2019, the United Council on Opioids was organized to bring community members and agencies together to create a strategic plan to increase communication and collaboration to continue the good work begun with various agencies and individuals. The goal was to decrease the number of overdose deaths and bring substance abuse services to those in need.
From this council, three task force groups were formed: prevention, treatment, and recovery. Each of these groups has met monthly since March working on specific goals and strategies to address substance abuse in our community.
The Prevention task force is working to increase community awareness and prevention of substance abuse. Collaborating with the White County Boys and Girls Club, youth drama club members presented a skit to 5th graders to increase awareness of opioid addiction and prescription medications. Through an AIMs grant (Accelerating Indiana Municipalities) two rounds of billboard campaigns were created and purchased in White County to share the message that recovery is possible.
The Recovery and Treatment task force groups were instrumental in working with Valley Oaks Health to bring an expansion of the Tippecanoe Quick Response Team into White County through a federal grant from the Family and Social Services Administration. The QRT began its work here in September 2019 and has contacted more than thirty clients in White County, connecting six to treatment for substance abuse.
Because of the community’s commitment and collaboration, building on what was done in the past, we are seeing progress. As we pool resources and ideas, the momentum is building and we are making a difference locally. Our successes inspire us to keep going. We can accomplish great things as we work together towards a common goal.
If you are interested in learning more or participating in this important work, please contact Whitecountyamericorps@gmail.com.
This column has discussed the Quick Response Team in previous columns. This time we will discuss what happens when you call them.
Anyone can call the QRT at 765-490-0381. You can call for yourself, or to refer a friend or family member. Your call will be answered by a certified recovery specialist. A CRS is a person in long-term recovery from substance use or a mental health issue who has received forty hours of training and passed a certification exam. You will be asked for your name (or the name of the person you are referring), age, and a brief description of the situation. They will also ask you for contact information (phone, address or if the person is homeless, where they tend to hang out). They will explain that they are a person in long-term recovery and have been where you are. They will ask where you are in your recovery process and what you need to continue in your recovery today.
The first step in the QRT contact is to do some basic assessments to learn your history and determine the nature and severity of your problem. They will ask you to describe what your life would look like without substance use or mental health issues. They will encourage you to imagine what recovery might look like for you. What are your ultimate goals? For a person beginning recovery, achieving a long-term goal may seem impossible and the obstacles insurmountable. Based on your vision and goals, they will help you prioritize what you would like to work on first. They break it down into manageable steps that you can accomplish.
The next step is to identify the services and agencies that would help you achieve your vision. The CRS is an expert in services and support available in the community and will help you access them.
If your goal is to find a job, they help you locate possible employers, obtain applications and fill them out. If you are ready to enter detox, they help you obtain insurance, find a treatment center, and transport you to the facility, often that same day.
After the initial contact, the CRS will continue to meet with you to work towards your plan for recovery. The frequency of your meetings will depend on your need. The CRS will not do the work for you, but will help you connect to the services you need and assist you in determining how to progress toward your goals. They act as connectors, encouragers and facilitators.
Sometimes people are leaving treatment and transitioning into their next step in recovery. They may need help finding housing or finding a support group. The CRS has resources related to all these needs and can connect you to these services.
Here are some examples of how the QRT has helped people in White County. One CRS helped a family with substance use and mental health issues who had a house fire. They assisted the family in obtaining clothes and even helped them find a temporary place to stay.
In another instance, a CRS helped a client work with the BMV to get a driver’s license re-instated and to set up insurance.
When not meeting with contacts, a CRS may distribute Narcan to convenience stores, liquor stores, and bars. They prepare, pack, and pass out toiletry bags to people moving to a treatment centers or transitional housing. To be prepared to connect clients to food pantries, assistance with utility bills, and setting up appointments for services, they research available programs and make important connections weekly.
As impressive as the QRT is, there are things they cannot help you with. They cannot help you avoid jail time or help with court appearances. They also cannot get you a car or do things that you can do for yourself. Their purpose is to walk alongside you to rebuild your life to live a balanced, healthy, productive life.
The QRT is there as long as you need them. Even after you are established in recovery and doing well, they will continue to check in with you. They emphasize that you are always welcome to call back if you need help in the future.
This next installment in our series about community perspectives centers around local pastors who discussed how they view the substance abuse problem in White County. The pastors were very appreciative of the small-town atmosphere of White County, with a strong sense of community where friendly people take care of each other.
They see substance abuse as a somber, weighty issue creating health issues and family crises. Each of them knew stories of parishioners, family members, and neighbors who had been horribly impacted by substance use and its devastation.
They are frustrated by their attempts to help people involved in substance use. They see the cycle of drug use, recovery, and relapse. Many felt unequipped to deal with people involved with substance use. Most had never had specific substance use training and struggled to know how to help. Their desire was for the church to be perceived as a place people could come for help with drug issues.
They expressed concern for youth who are experimenting with substances recreationally. “The kids know it is wrong, but don’t realize the danger. They don’t see that they are walking a dangerous line and the long-term consequences they are setting themselves up for.”
“Nobody doing drugs thinks they will get hooked. They believe it will never happen to me because they are invincible and immortal. Teens believe they have their whole life in front of them, that they will never get hooked, but end up losing years of their lives.”
The pastors recognized that isolation from community was a contributor to substance use. People tend to be busy, focused on their own lives, and don’t spend time with their neighbors. The pastors believe it is unhealthy to live in such a privatized world.
One pastor expressed frustration that “we are already at a loss, because the drug community is already ahead and winning and we are always playing catch-up.” Some expressed frustration in the community’s casual attitude about drugs and alcohol. Several expressed disappointment in community festivals which included a beer garden, perpetuating the attitude that you can’t have fun without drugs and alcohol. “How can you tell kids, ‘don’t do drugs and alcohol’ when many social activities in the community center around alcohol?” They worried that people in recovery, hoping to avoid temptation, might feel excluded from community events.
They were also concerned about senior citizens. Senior adults can unintentionally become addicted to prescription drugs, taking them for legitimate medical needs and becoming vulnerable to overdose. They wondered if the seniors were even aware of the dangers.
Their hope for White County was to pool resources and work together collaborating with other agencies. They are grateful that this is beginning to happen and are developing partnerships with police, sheriff and fire departments. “As a community, we may have our differences, but we always bond together in times in need. When there is crisis, the differences fade into the background and we pull together to take care of each other.”
School counselors from White County discussed their experiences with students related to substance abuse. They share their perspectives in the remainder of the article below, with quotations reflecting their individual insights.
School counselors see two problems: students who are affected by a family member involved in substance abuse and student usage. Both impact our schools. They see the effects of a family member’s addiction on students. The emotional and social effects on students are far-reaching and influence their academic success. “When family members are involved in addiction, it is difficult for students to be successful without support from home. Parents who use are setting their kids up to follow them down that path.”
“I feel sad for kids who have parents who are using. They lack the kind of support system that makes other kids successful. Parents can be very good about hiding their issues. They simply don’t come around to school.” Counselors wonder how to help students whose families are struggling with substance abuse, overdose and incarceration.
They also see students begin their own journey into addiction. They know of former students who have destroyed their lives with substance abuse. “I want students to succeed and graduate. Students who I suspect may be using drugs show higher attendance issues and academic struggles.”
The counselors expressed concerns about the young age when kids begin using drugs. They emphasize the importance of prevention and keeping kids from becoming involved with drugs. “In the long run, it is so much easier to prevent someone from getting involved with drugs than to deal with the consequences of a destroyed life.” Others mentioned the difficulty in getting adolescents to understand the dangers and take them seriously. “They think they are invincible and [addiction] won’t happen to them.”
Many expressed frustration and fear. “Honestly, sometimes I feel defeated and discouraged. I see how debilitating this epidemic has become and it is sad how poorly our society treats aspects of this problem. I am fearful for my own children growing up during this epidemic because of how accessible these drugs have become.”
“It makes me very sad and sick to my stomach. There is an attitude that if someone overdoses then it’s on them and we shouldn’t be spending money to save the life of someone who is just going to get high again.”
“Actually, I think it goes back to viewing addiction as a community health issue rather than a crime. The stigma surrounding addiction and lack of resources are keeping us from making the progress that we want.”
“Our community needs to understand and buy-in to [addressing this issue by] making resources available to help those who are struggling. We need local services and treatment.”
“We need more awareness, education, and access to counseling and services. We need to let people get help without getting in trouble with the law.”
All the counselors indicated a commitment to developing a community where children were safe and protected, where families receive the support they need to eliminate the generational cycles of addiction, and where the community works together to solve problems. Their goal is to provide the support to students and families to make this happen. If someone you know is struggling with substance use, please encourage them to talk to a guidance counselor at their school. Adults over age 18 can call 765-490-0381 to talk to a live person about getting help. There is hope!
Captain Tony Stroup of the Monticello Police Department sat down for an interview this summer to describe his experiences with substance abuse here in White County. He shares his unique perspective in the remainder of the article below.
“I’ve been on the job for fifteen years now; the drug problem has always been there. Recently, we have gone through a period of opioid use and that is pretty dangerous stuff. People start out with a prescription due to an injury or surgery, but then the doctor won’t prescribe it any more. People go out and seek it on the street from others. That’s usually the story that I get from the people I see.
Obviously, everybody's different. Some people get addicted quicker than others. It’s not the stereotype junkie, not the homeless person on the street. They're like me and you, and it just slowly, picks away at their lives. And then before you know it, they have lost their job and everything they care about. They basically used all the people who cared about them. They stole from everybody and lied to everybody.
Many people in the community are trying to get off of drugs. They're never completely out of it, because the people they used to use with always try to get ahold of them and get them back involved. If people do drugs together and one of them goes to jail, as soon as he gets out, they will be contacting him to get back into it. So, when these people get out, they feel like they need to go someplace else, because everyone who will associate with them here is involved in drugs.
It is so easy to become jaded in this work. As a police officer, there are so many days, of the negatives, taking people to jail and being called those names. It's a very abusive atmosphere day-in and day-out. I can be just minding my own business, and people just immediately start to react to me as a police officer giving me that negative attitude right away. It has nothing to do with me. They are triggered by police officers in general because they have had bad experiences.
As police officers, we aren’t going to eliminate opioids or any drug, per se. They are always going to be there. But maybe how we deal with it, and how we police could be a little bit different. Back in the day, it was a big deal to find someone with a bag of marijuana. Now drugs are killing people and tearing their lives apart. It used to be exciting to find the stuff, but now you feel sorry for them. It's not so much an excitement, it's a sigh of sorrow because drugs are tearing people’s lives apart and not just them, but their families.
Because at the end of the day, it's not about throwing people in jail, we want to see them in recovery. We want to see them there for their kids. That's what means the most to me. It's inspiring and awesome to me to hear those success stories about people who get out of the cycle. I want there to be more of those, not the hate and discontent. We are all in this together. I have a job. It would be weird to call it a mission. But, my career is to help people as much as I can.”
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.