The Jackson County Drug-Free Council is restructuring and taking on a more focused role to unite the community in the fight against opiate addiction and overdoses.
With guidance and support from Jackson County United Way, action teams are being developed and volunteers and professionals are needed to help implement a new plan of attack that includes increased prevention and intervention and more access to treatment and recovery.
Tonja Couch, director of JCUW, presented the framework for United Against Drugs to drug-free council members earlier this week.
“It was apparent that there may have been some overlap and miscommunication about what was occurring or what wasn’t occurring,” Couch said of past efforts to address the community’s drug problem.
Divided into three main areas: Action teams, resource and referrals and grants, the drug-free council will be focusing its work on prevention, education, intervention, treatment and recovery and law enforcement.
There is more that could be happening with public awareness too, Couch added.
“It’s going to take a lot of volunteers and people getting engaged in this work,” she said.
Brenda Turner, president of the drug-free council, said the new United Against Drugs framework “makes sense,” and helps bring more stakeholders together to collaborate on the different areas.
“That way no one is an island trying to do it by themselves,” she said. “Everyone has an important role in getting things done.”
Board member Myra Mellencamp said the drug-free council’s goal is to “bring all the pieces of the puzzle together under one umbrella.”
Funding for the drug-free council’s work comes from drug interdiction fees, money collected in Jackson County courts from those convicted of drug and alcohol offenses.
The council will be looking to the state’s Strategic Approach to Addressing Substance Abuse in Indiana and the Indiana Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Preliminary Action Steps as guides to begin implementing new strategies and actions in Jackson County.
Jim McClelland, executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement in Indiana, and Kevin Moore, director of mental health and addiction for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, attended this past week’s meeting.
Attacking the drug problem is one of the top priorities in the state, McClelland said.
In his newly created position, McClelland is responsible for coordinating, aligning and focusing resources throughout different state agencies to effectively combat drugs.
“There are pieces of this problem being addressed in many different government silos and so we have to have a way to coordinate this and make sure we’re all aligned and we’re not duplicating efforts but also to leverage the state’s resources with those from other sectors and try to bring all these pieces together in a way that’s going to enable us to have an excellent impact,” he said.
Moore said Jackson County has been on the forefront of prescription drug and heroin issues.
What makes addressing the drug problem difficult is that people identify it differently, he said. Some see it as a chronic brain disease, while others say it is a personal choice. Moore says it’s both.
“That initial decision to use, that’s a choice. That’s a bad decision,” he said. “Once you’re addicted, that choice is gone. You’re doing it to maintain your balance on the inside. You’re using to not go into withdrawal. The decision to continue to use becomes a matter of survival.”
One of the actions the state is working on is making more naloxone available to keep people alive, giving them a chance to get into treatment and make it to long-term recovery.
A second major action the state is taking is expanding treatment capacity.
“We are woefully short on treatment capacity in this state,” McClelland said. “We are doing a number of things. There was an announcement last Wednesday about five new opioid treatment programs opening up in the state.”
The third major piece is prevention, he added.
McClelland said one option for preventing substance abuse is to provide youth with “alternative highs,” through after-school and summer programs.
“For kids to do things they want to do, whether it’s art, music, dance, sports, to learn skills they want to learn, to learn about topics they want to know more about, not necessarily what adults want them to know or do,” he said.
He also said another idea is to put more social workers in schools to work with kids identified as at-risk and their families.
“It’s a wrap-around approach,” he said.
Moore said there will always be addiction.
“As long as there are substances that give people a high, that will help them escape, that will help them deal with their trauma, whatever the rationale is, there is going to be addiction,” he said. “We have got to get on the front side of this.”
Having recovery supports in place is another critical piece in fighting the state’s opioid addiction problem.
“A lot of this can be done by volunteer groups,” McClelland said. “There are professionals doing it. We’re going to be using more peer recovery coaches, but there are volunteer groups doing this in a number of communities in this state.”
He said the goal of these groups is to create a “safe, supportive, loving community for people struggling with addiction.”
“They are doing whatever it takes to try to help people get on the right path and stay on the right path and if they do lapse or relapse, they are staying with them and trying to help them get through it and get on with their lives,” he said.
Moore said there isn’t one answer to the drug problem.
“We need suboxone and we need methadone and we need addiction treatment and we need 12-step programs and we need faith-based groups and we need sober-living houses and more residential treatment,” he said. “We need all of those in our arsenal as we look to address the issue of addiction and particularly around opiates.”
Indiana’s drug crisis did not happen overnight.
“It’s been growing. It’s been building for 20 years,” McClelland said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
There are some areas where the state must lead, but so much of the work that has to be done in prevention and recovery has to be done at a local level with groups like the drug-free council, McClelland said.
“You’ve got the group. You’re on the right course here,” he said.
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Jackson County Drug-Free Council
On Facebook: facebook.com/JacksonCountyDrugFreeCouncil
Email: [email protected]
Director: Brenda Turner
Board officers: Charlotte Moss, president; Beth White, vice president; Bob Dembek (secretary); Tom Wright (treasurer).
Other board members: Lin Montgomery, Myra Mellencamp, AmyMarie Travis, Steve Redicker, Darlene Kilburn and Wendy Cash.
Next meeting: 4 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Community Foundation of Jackson County, 107 Community Drive, Seymour.