SIDNEY — Commending Shelby County for being “ahead of the times,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, toured the Shelby County Jail and the construction site for the new STAR House Wednesday. He also listened as community leaders voiced their concerns about the opioid crisis in the county during a roundtable discussion.
And during his visit he shared the information that the county is receiving more than $500,000 grant from the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA) to assist with the treatment of addiction treatment in the county.
“The county used an innovative way to close the gap” between a person leaving the jail and continuing to receive treatment, said Portman.”This (opioid crisis) is a top issue for everyone.
Drug overdoses, said Portman, are a huge cost to all communities. A person overdoses, is given NARCAN to revive them and then the person returns to the same environment where they overdosed.
If the person is in jail, he said, he/she receives treatment for the addiction. The problem is when they transition back out into society and the support system isn’t there for them.
The STAR House, said Portman, will assist with that transition.
“There’s been a lot of work with collaboration to get the funds for the STAR House,” he said. “The Cara funds will help with the treatment costs to the county. It will be a benefit for the STAR House as they transition into the community with a job.”
The STAR House will provide another sober living environment for recovering addicts, he said.
Portman said federal funds can only be used for treatment, not the construction of facilities such as the STAR House.
“We (federal government) target treatment,” said Portman. “Congress has never approved this much funding before.
“They don’t do construction because it is expense and hart to keep tabs on it,” he said
Portman said he will be using the county’s model of assisting recovering addicts and the STAR House as he travels around the state of Ohio and the United States.
Portman told the roundtable participants he is impressed with what Sheriff John Lenhart and his deputies have done with the jail and STAR House.
“I’mimpressed with what the county has done,” he said. “STAR House is going to be a terrific addition.”
He said the collaboration between agencies in the county is something he will be telling others about during his travels.
“The opioid crisis caught us by surprise,” said Portman. “We had no idea this was coming upon us.”
He said the opioid crisis is the No. 1 health crisis in the United States.
“We need to close some gaps for the people who are addicted and get them into treatment,” he said. “We need to treat addiction like it’s a disease.
“This is a workplace issue as the person can’t pass a drug test. Or they just don’t show up to take a drug test,” he said.
He said a person with a drug offense needs to get treatment and then transition from jail to the “outside” world.
“I’ve talked to thousands of recovering addicts,” said Portman. “They’ve been through treatment numerous times.
“You must have the threat of incarceration in a drug court,” he said. “That makes more sense than having a revolving door. Getting faith involved has been more successful too.
“I’m a fan of what you’re doing here because if a collaborative effort” between mental health agencies, the courts and law enforcement.
Portman said for the past two years, Congress has started to focus on the drug problems and how they can help solve it.
“With treatment money you’re receiving, I’ll be able to go back to D.C. and tell them how it’s working in Shelby County and the tri-county area,” said Portman.
He said the government is trying to get fentanyl off the streets. The drug is inexpensive and very powerful.
The STOP (Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention) Act, he said, will help stop illegal drugs being mailed into the country via the post office.
“The post office will be required to scan all packages,” he said. “This will slow down and cut the supply (from coming into the U.S.). This will solve the problem until they (drug dealers) find something else” to sell.
Participating in the roundtable discussion were Thom Grim, Miami County Recovery Council; Julie Clay, Family Resource Center of Northwest Ohio; Jean Young, Family Health Services of Darke County; Dennis Propes, Miami County Health Commissioner; Rebecca Sousek, Piqua Compassion Network; Traci Milanese, Compassionate Care of Sidney; John Lenhart, Shelby County Sheriff; Shelby County Commissioners Julie Ehemann, Bob Guillozet and Tony Bornhorst; Mark McDaniel, Tri-County BRMHS; Scott Barr, Shelby County United Way; and Erica Lentz, director of Nursing, Sidney-Shelby County Health Department.
Lenhart said the work for the STAR House began five years ago when he decided the federal government wasn’t going to help with the drug problem.
“Two years ago, we took over security at the hospital. On the first weekend we worked, from 8 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Monday, there were eight overdoses brought in.”
STAR House, he said is court-ordered but the person must be willing to take the program on, said Lenhart.
“The industrial base needs us,” said Lenhart. “The state penitentiary system is messed up. The smaller counties are affected (by opioid crisis). We reached out and were ignored,” said Lenhart.
Young told Portman that her agency recently started a needle exchange program in Darke County. While it just started, she said, they will have to gain the trusts of addicts that if they exchange needles a law enforcement officer won’t be present or waiting for them to leave the building to arrest them.
“As the demand for services increases, our outreach approach is changing,” said Grim.
He said there’s a group that goes out every Wednesday in Miami County to reach out to the addicts and provide assistance to them. He said two years ago a residential withdrawal facility was opened in Troy.
Grim said a detox program and then safe housing for the addicts are needed to help them stay off drugs. If the person has successfully detoxed from the drugs, “its a ticking time bomb to put them back into the same environment” where they overdosed, said Grim.
Grim said there is a need for “sober” housing in all three counties to assist the recovering addict.
“We have two sober living homes in Shelby County,” said Barr. “They are faith-based homes. The STAR House is critical for a person getting out of jail. It will continue to provide structure for them.”
After living in a “sober” house, the recovering addict needs to go to a graduate house for another year in the recovery process.
Clay said her agency has a team which includes a counselor, police officer, pastor and another worker which visits the homes of addicts and recovering addicts every week.
“We see them if they’ve received a dose of NARCAN,” said Clay. “Then we see them at the 30-, 60- and 90-day period. We often get referrals from family members.”
Portman said NARCAN is a lifesaver but more is needed to help the addicts.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.